By Charles Boehm
Last week, Dumfries, Va. native Ali Krieger was named to the U.S. Women’s National Team roster for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany this summer. It’s her first World Cup opportunity and Krieger, who spent four years playing club soccer in Germany with FFC Frankfurt, is not only a squad member but a leading contender for a starting role at right back. National Soccer Wire caught up with Ali to chat about her latest achievement and the unconventional road she took to reach it.
NSW: How did you learn that you’d made the Women’s World Cup squad? What was your first reaction?
AK: We actually had a meeting while we were in camp – I think it was last Thursday. Thursday night we all had meetings and I was the last meeting, so I was hoping it was going to be a good one. I was really, really happy, really excited to make it official and to kind of get the nerves out and say, ‘this is it, now continue to get to work and now focus on the tournament.’
NSW: You are the only U.S. Women’s National Teamer to have played abroad in recent years.
AK: Yeah, I think if I never went to Germany, I don’t think I’d be sitting here talking to you about this opportunity. So I think going to Germany was probably the best choice that I’ve ever made in my career. I think I kind of bring something different to the table than a lot of the other players. I can share with them some of the things I’ve learned and I learn from them as well. I bring kind of a different element that can help the team, so that’s exciting.
NSW: Will you go back overseas after the World Cup? What are your longer-term plans?
AK: I didn’t re-sign with Frankfurt – they wanted me to re-sign and go back come August, but I decided not to because of the Olympics. My number-one focus now is the World Cup and then hopefully the Olympics next summer. I wasn’t really available too much for the U.S. team this [past] year, I missed the China tournament and a couple camps that were important. But the schedules clashed a little bit, and the federation works a little different than the others. I was the only one playing in Europe and that caused some issues with travelling and being available – especially when my club team, we’re playing in the Champions League this upcoming year, so that’s going to be even more games than normal.
So I would only be released for FIFA dates, which, there’s some important camps that I want to be a part of, that I want to be here [for], because it’s my commitment now. So I have to choose, unfortunately. I’m hoping that, depending on what happens in the World Cup, I’ll think about going back in August. If not, then I might wait until after the Olympics. Luckily, Frankfurt always said, ‘you’re welcome to come back any time you want.’ So that was nice to hear.
NSW: That sounds like a major difference between the U.S. women’s program and others, for example the U.S. men, who routinely shuttle back and forth from Europe. Shouldn’t more players go abroad and have the kind of experiences you had?
AK: Absolutely – [but] I’m kind of biased. I think every player, because of how much I’ve grown and how much I can see that my style of play and the pace of the game, for me – I’ve grown as a player so much, being in that atmosphere. A lot of girls are doing great in WPS, I don’t want to take that away from them, but I honestly wish that some of the other girls were overseas as well, just like the men. That way I wouldn’t be the only one traveling back and forth and having this issue, because my loyalty lies with Frankfurt and as of now, it’s tough to play for any other club, in my eyes.
I didn’t want to leave, I wasn’t ready to leave, but when this came up, playing with the U.S. National Team, that is my first priority right now. I dropped my life for this and this is now my focus. But yes, I wish some of the other girls would do that. We’ve been talking a little bit here and here. But I also want the WPS to survive, and if I can be a part of that, helping this league survive, then that’s great, too. So it’s kind of bittersweet in a way. I don’t want to take anything away from our country and trying to build this league up, but if it doesn’t survive, then I might think about going back. And a couple of other girls have heard about how successful it has been for me, so I’m assuming some of them might take that road as well.
NSW: Have you been contacted by WPS or any of its clubs?
AK: I can’t say, I can’t comment on that. I’m just going to wait to see what happens in the World Cup and then I’ll decide what I want to do after that.
NSW: It sounds like it’s on your radar, though.
AK: Yeah, it has to be if I want to stay here [in the U.S.]. I have to play somewhere, and if it’s not going to be overseas, then obviously – I think playing games is really important. But the league ends, I think there’s only six games after the World Cup that I would be able to be a part of. And after the World Cup, you need to give your body some rest and some time off after this long stretch, so I haven’t really decided yet. That’s in my mind but not set in stone.
NSW: What is your outlook for the Women’s World Cup itself? It seems like you’re on the inside track for the starting right back position.
AK: I’ve gotten great feedback from Pia [Sundhage, USWNT head coach] and the coaching staff, and I feel really comfortable in the position I’m in right now. One can’t get complacent, I don’t tend to do that, so I’m going to continue to work hard and continue to play well in that position, and be there for my team in any way that they need me. I feel really good where I am right now and the feedback I’m getting, it’s all positive and I’m just trying to work on the little details. But as of now…I think yeah, you’ll be seeing more of me in that position.
NSW: What’s the mood around camp right now? A lot of people aren’t quite sure what to make of this team yet.
AK: Honestly, we all want to win so badly. We want to play well, we want to do the good things, we want to be better on the field and play as a team, and score goals. The want is there and the need to win, and the desire and passion to play together – and to play good soccer. Right now we’re trying to iron out some of the details and things we need to do better on the field, individually and as a team.
Everyone’s focused, but also I think there’s a tendency to get a little bit fatigued at times, because of the league [WPS play] and people are flying all over the East Coast to go here and there, to that game and this game. It’s been a little bit hairy lately but once we all get together after the Mexico game, [after] we get that four- or five-day break, then we’re all going to fly to Austria together and I think from then on, our focus is going to be, ‘OK, gold medal. This is it.’
But other than that…We’re sticking together, we have each others’ backs, and support – we’re pulling each other along daily.
NSW: You’re all spending a lot of time together, and there are some interesting personalities on that squad.
AK: Yeah, amazing people on this team. Everyone brings something different to the table – we all get along really well, honestly. Of course there’s the funny ones, we have characters that keep us going. When you’re so tired and you’re just around each other all the time, you need to laugh and you need to get away with each other and have some fun, get away from the soccer part of it, which is so nice. Everyone has a great heart and we all have the same goal, we all share that.
We all care so much and we keep each other going, whether it’s a tiring day or not. A few laughs here and there really helps.
NSW: You grew up in a coaching family – what is Pia Sundhage like compared to your previous coaches?
AK: Pia is really motivational; she builds our confidence, and she really makes you feel confident, in training and games. She’s really positive and she knows the game really well. She brings a lot of emotion to the game and she motivates you to want to play, to want to fight for your teammates and play good soccer. She brings a different style, a European style…I think the European aspect of it brings something different to the table.
NSW: How is that European method different from the American way?
AK: It’s not better or worse than the American way, because obviously we’ve been very successful with the American way in the past. It’s not that we’ve gotten off track or anything. The European way is more of a passing game, ping it around, one and two touch, instead of a dribbling game. We tend to like to dribble a lot, Americans, or we’re even known for “boot it up the field.” We try to stop that and actually play, getting the ball up the field starting from the back, swing the ball around…We’re trying to play a little bit more than boot it and run.
The European game, you take less touches and pressure high up the field, quickly, and I think we’re trying to do that. We don’t want to lose our American way as well, we’ve been very successful with that. We’re going to use both and mix it in, come up with our own style as a team.