Ali Krieger made the leap into the main stream after coolly slotting home the 5th and decisive penalty in the infamous quarterfinal against Brazil. Having played most of her professional career in Germany (she is back with FFC Frankfurt), she might have gone under the casual fans radar, but as a rock at right back, Krieger has been a mainstay on the USWNT for the past year.
A super sharp, confident, intelligent woman on and off the field, Ali Krieger was gracious enough to take time from her well deserved break to talk to us at TSG.
Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.
TSG: You were one of 4 players to play every single minute this past World Cup and you’ve been played 25 or so games with the USWNT, do you feel that you have cemented a place on the team for the upcoming Olympics?
Ali Krieger: Yeah lets hope so. I think if I can stay fit and healthy, I don’t see a reason to keep me of the roster, but playing wise you never know what could happen, so I don’t want to say that my spot is “cemented”, even though some of the players tell me that. I don’t want to get complacent, so I need to continue working hard and playing at my best and hopefully that will continue to allow me to play in the right back position.
TSG: I imagine the World Cup was a different experience for you then the other girls. How was coming back to Germany? Was it like coming home?
AK: It was amazing and so comfortable. I was so happy once we landed that I had a big smile on my face and I felt like I was back home. I was made to feel so welcomed by the fans. I was excited to be back in football country and it was all an amazing feeling.
TSG: Your last name in German means “Warrior “and you appropriately plied your tough swashbuckling style in Europe and are one of the only USWNT players to do so. Can you tell us about your experience with FFC Frankfurt?
AK: It was a stepping stone that helped get to where I am today and I will always be grateful and loyal to the club. In 3 and a half years, they have prepared me to be able to play in the past World Cup by making me a better person and player.
My perspective on life has changed since living there as I had to learn a new language and culture. It was such a cool experience that I will never forget and hopefully one day, maybe in the near future continue to be a part off.
TSG: Would you recommend playing in Europe to any of the younger or even veteran USWNT players?
AK: I tell them everyday that it’s amazing and every time they ask me how it is or if I recommend it I say “of course”. Look at how much I’ve changed as a player and how much more comfortable I’ve gotten on the ball. My technical and tactical abilities have grown from being in Germany, which to me is the “football country”. In Europe in general, it’s the number one sport and I think everyone should have that experience and to be a part of it. It’s been unreal for me and I know everyone would enjoy it as well.
TSG: For the most part, it’s the desire for most male players to play on a Champions league team. Is the women’s Champions League held in a similar high regard?
AK: Of course. The Champions League is right under World Cup in terms of a tournament that everyone wants to play in and be part off, and is the highest level of club football. I think the most important part about playing with a club team is that you get to train day in and day out. You can’t treat the national team like a club team cause that’s not why it’s there and what it’s about. I think everyone should have the experience playing with a club and playing in important games every weekend. This year there is the Champions League, the DFB cup (German domestic cup), and Bundesliga all together. That is a lot of highly competitive games that one has to compete in week in and week out, and that experience can only make one a better player.
TSG: Where would you say is the prominent or prestigious league that most women want to play in? Is it the WPS or is it in Europe?
AK: Well I’m going to be a little biased, but the German league could be the top league as off right now. Unfortunately the German national team lost in the quarters so it might be hard for them to lay claim as the best league. I think Sweden, England and Germany all have very good leagues, and then you have Lyon who just won the Champions League this past year. I’m not all together familiar with the rest of the French club teams, but I know that Lyon is a very good team with a great training atmosphere that seems indicative of the rest of the league.
TSG: One hears stories that a lot of the South American Soccer federations are not very supportive of their women’s teams. Do you feel that there is an increase in support in the US and in Europe?
AK: It’s getting better as you can see in the increased number of teams in the World Cup qualifiers as well as teams like Columbia at the World Cup. I think it’s growing, but it will take time. Countries aren’t immediately going to all of a sudden put money toward their women’s football teams. Look at Brazil who barely get any support and they are one of the best teams in the world, though they will be hosting the Olympics in 2016 so they will probably put in some money toward the women’s national team, but unfortunately I don’t think they will ever get the same support as the men’s teams.
TSG: I grew up in Switzerland, and starting at a young age you start playing with your local club team. It was just something that young boys did (not unlike little league or Pee Wee football here), but there wasn’t that equivalent for girls. Is that changing in Europe?
AK: Yes. I think the U.S. system is a different. We have university for 4 years and everyone goes through a school system versus somewhere like Frankfurt, as an example, where they have a youth system like every other club in the world. Everyone goes to school, but you still play with a club. Frankfurt has a youth club and you go up through the ranks from fourth, third and second team to eventually the first team, which was whom I was playing with it. I think its great a way to progress the game for young women and it really helps them, as they play every single day and at a high level. I think this is why other countries have caught up to us in terms of ability and playing level.
TSG: You also played a loan season with the Washington Freedom. How does the atmosphere in the stands, fans, support for the women’s game compare between the European leagues and the WPS?
AK: At that point it really wasn’t comparable. There were people who were interested as it was the first year of the league, and people were excited that it was back, and at first it was doing very well, but it varies. There were times when there was only 500 or so at a game and others when there was several thousand depending on who our opponent was.
But now after the World Cup, there were around 15,000 people at the magicJack versus Western New York Flash game. It was amazing to get such a high attendance, though that’s not normal for us. It had all to do with how well we did at the World Cup, and now people are interested in coming out to not only watch the stars and the national team players, but also all the foreign players in the league.
TSG: Is there a difference in style of play?
AK: Well yes. The European game is much more of a passing game and our league is more of a running game. We like to run and get up the field and feel that that’s the biggest difference. I love the European style because that is what I’m used to and that’s what I’ve grown to be a part off – taking one or two touches and moving the ball as quickly as we can. Even Japan is playing that way and I think it’s a very attractive way of playing soccer [author is hoping his intramural team is taking note].
TSG: I imagine for you coming into the German league with a hard running mentality and then learning a more of a passing style to the game, that combining both abilities can be very effective.
AK: Combining those two methods is very effective. Having Pia Sundhage as a European coach and bringing that style to the national team and combining those two styles, produces a great product that is very successful, but in order to do so we all have to be on the same page.
I think we need to work on it, but once we can combine the quick passing game with the running game as a group, a team, we will be able to put together a great future for the USWNT.
TSG: You’re currently a free agent and you had a great World Cup? Any thoughts or desires about where you will or want to play next? [Krieger is back playing with FFC Frankfurt and her season started yesterday as Frankfurt ran out 3-0 winners over Essen]
AK: I’m taking a break for now, but leaving the doors open. I’m obviously going to weigh my options and I loved playing in Frankfurt. I have so much loyalty to that club, so I’m certainly going to take a look at going back there, but I’ve also gotten offers from other clubs (whom I won’t mention).
Obviously the WPS is out of the question as I need a break right now and there are only 4 or so games left. People forget that I’ve already had a nine month Bundesliga season and only got a two week break before World Cup preparation, so I’m just a little tired and my body needs a rest. I’m on the European schedule, but starting tomorrow (August 2nd) I will start to running and working out again.
TSG: What sort of training regime do you do? Are you working on long distance or short sprints?
AK: Both, because however I can get in game shape without playing games is what I need to do. Doing interval training, mixed in with short sprints or whatever the schedule says that I get from the trainers of national team. They cater trainings to specific positions so I’ll be doing stuff for midfielders and outside backs. It all depends on how much running you do in a game. Obviously everyone can do a little bit extra, but for me who likes to get up and down on the wing, I will need to do more interval training.
TSG: I assume you won’t have any trouble jumping into any pick up game you come across?
AK: Yeah, Yesterday I did the Mia Hamm Celebrity Soccer Challenge in D.C. which was only on a tennis court sized pitch, but I felt really good even though I haven’t run since the World Cup final. I guess two weeks is a good enough break, but I need to starting training to keep going at the level that I would like to be at.
TSG: The Olympics are up next for the USWNT. When do you guys start gearing up for that?
AK: We have the victory tour, a sort of celebration tour some time end of August (USWNT will be playing 2 games in Portland and Kansas City against the Canadian women’s team on Sept. 17 and Sept 22). Then we will probably have a break and it should all start up in November. So we will have another break. I can’t complain with extra rest, but I just want to make sure I don’t lose my game fitness and the playing level I’m currently playing at.
TSG: One noticeable aspect of the women’s game versus the mens game was the flow. I believe the game flowed a lot better. In my opinion that had a lot to do with the lack of playacting, diving and the referee constantly blowing the whistle. Also the referee let a lot more hard tackles go as the women would just bounce back and get on the with game…
TSG: …Why do you think the women don’t simulate more? This has been an interesting topic of conversation with some people saying that the women have less to play for. [ TSG disagrees ]
AK: Absolutely not. There is so much incentive for us to win a game. I think the game has gotten better for women. Each game at the World Cup had an audience of 20 – 50k fans which goes to show how much the game is growing and progressing and how we are succeeding.
Even watching the games on TV were so exciting. We’re (USWNT) all fans as well and we watched all the other games in the hotel and it was so amazing. The game is getting fast and better and it makes me really happy. This World Cup proved to me that people are willing to try and make women’s football more prominent and successful, and to get people to watch and follow their national team and make it as entertaining as the men’s game.
TSG: The athleticism has always been on display but the skill level has become fantastic as well. Just about every game was thoroughly exciting to watch and there was really no negativity associated with any of the games including the positive respect for ones opponents.
AK: Well everyone has a high level of respect for each other. It’s the World Cup – every team is going to be good whether it’s Colombia or Germany. Each one of those teams in Germany possess something great, otherwise they wouldn’t be there and at the next World Cup (2015) there will be an additional 8 teams, so with 24, that goes to show you it’s going to grow even more.
TSG: Favorite club team to follow?
AK: My favorite club team is Chelsea and have loved them since I was 16 years old. I also really enjoying watching the Bundesliga, but I don’t have a favorite team there. Some of my friends play on FC Frankfurt, but I just enjoy watching the football every weekend.
AK: Toughest opponent you have come across?
AK: Marta, obviously is very difficult to mark. She’s very quick and skillful and that was pretty tough in the Brazil game [Ali and the US backline did a great job of containing her] and the three French forwards were very difficult. I had to guard Thinney (Gaëtane Thiney) and she was tough. The Japanese team were also a challenge.
TSG: So in a recent forum with the Washington Post, you mention that post soccer, wedding planning might be in the cards as a next career move…really? do tell?
AK: [chuckles]. I’m actually really interested in broadcasting, whether it be for any sport but obviously I would prefer soccer. If not, event planning and specifically wedding planning. I just think it would be really fun, but I don’t want to start thinking about that just now, but it is in the back of my mind.
TSG: Thank you so much for your time Ali and best of luck in the future.
AK: Thanks and talk to you soon. [fingers crosses].