Defender Ali Krieger has taken the path less traveled to the U.S. Women’s National Team, to say the least. As the USA’s only player who was based abroad in the run-up to the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, she’s lived quite an adventure since graduating from college. Krieger means “warrior” in German and she’s proved to be just that as she fought for an earned a spot on the USA’s 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Team, bringing her back to the country she’s called home for the last four years.
We’ve got a script we think Hollywood could get behind.
A twenty-year old college soccer player breaks her leg badly, then suffers life-threatening complications, only to be rushed to the hospital by her then-boyfriend, a pre-med major, and recovers.
She goes on to have an excellent college career and then makes the U.S. U-23 Women’s National Team, but is nowhere close to being on the radar of the senior squad. After playing very well in a summer tournament with the U-23s, she takes a flier on a tryout in Germany, and ends up getting a contract with one of the top women’s clubs in the world.
She heads to Germany speaking not a word of the language. She suffers through an injury-plagued first few years but eventually earns the respect of her teammates as well as a starting spot and a European championship. She goes through four years of life-altering growth as a person and player, learns to speak fluent German, carves out a new life in Germany and earns her a chance to play for the United States in a World Cup held in -- wait for it -- Germany.
She then helps the USA to the Final, where she scores the winning goal on a diving header, looks into the camera and says, in German, “I’m going to Disneyland!”
Ok, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. But the first part of this story is all true. We are talking, of course, about the amazing adventure of Ali Krieger, defender for the United States Women’s National Team and, formerly, of FFC Frankfurt of the German Women’s Bundesliga.
BAD BREAK TO GOOD BREAK
After breaking her leg in college during a scrimmage against men, she suffered from some potentially fatal blood clots in the leg and her pre-med boyfriend, knowing something wasn’t right, insisted she go right away to the hospital. She was treated quickly and eventually recovered fully. With that behind her, she had an All-American career at Penn State. She graduated on May 11, 2007, left immediately to play with the U.S. U-23s in Germany, came back to attend a training camp in Portland, and then traveled to Finland in June to play for the U.S. in the Nordic Cup.
It was there that a German scout saw her and offered her a chance to try out for Frankfurt. She went to Germany in early September of that year, was offered a contract, and lived in Europe until the end of this past Bundesliga season.
This year, Frankfurt was in a season-long battle with Turbine Potsdam of Berlin for the league title, and fell just short, but rebounded to defeat Potsdam for the German Cup title on March 26 in Köln.
That trophy was especially sweet for Krieger because the game was her last, at least for now, for Frankfurt.
BACK ON HOME SOIL
In order to pursue her goals of making the USA’s 2011 Women’s World Cup Team and perhaps playing in the 2012 Olympics, Krieger elected not to re-sign with Frankfurt for a fifth season and instead headed back to the USA in April to her native land of suburban Virginia.
“After I finished this season with Frankfurt, my focus was totally on the national team and these amazing opportunities,” said Krieger. “Of course, I’m torn between club and country, but the decision was only difficult to say out loud. It was a clear decision. For me to say ‘I’m going home, I’m focusing on the national team,’ it feels great now and is the right decision for me, for my career and for me to succeed. I can try to fulfill my ultimate goals and dreams as a female soccer player to have the opportunity to play in a World Cup and an Olympics and that’s pretty cool.”
While Krieger performed extremely well at right back for Frankfurt, it was a tough and long season for her. The club had to make up quite a few games towards the end of the campaign due to bad weather, and Frankfurt dropped a key match toward the end of the season that would have put them alone in first place. Krieger missed quite a few games while playing with the USA in World Cup qualifying and as is the case for all international players who play their club soccer outside their home countries, the back-and-forth was difficult.
“It’s amazing to be with the U.S. team, that’s where I want to be,” said Krieger. “But when you go back to your club you have to be one hundred percent focused on that team. It’s a tough transition due to the styles of play, different players, different culture and different coaching.”
“Once I’m in that place, I’m totally there, but you have to switch it on when you travel in and out. When I’m with Frankfurt, you put the national team on the back-burner and vice-versa, and that’s what I found most difficult. The travel is tough and you miss games for both sides. You want to be in two places at once, but you can’t, so that’s really difficult to deal with.”
Krieger’s game improved tremendously while playing with a large contingent of German national team players during her stay in Frankfurt and she’s incredibly thankful for the opportunity. Frankfurt, which won the UEFA Women’s Champions League in 2008, featured eight German National Team players, two Swedish National Team players, and two players each from the German U-20 and U-17 National Teams.
“We were stacked and it’s so much fun to play with good players all the time, day and day out,” said Krieger. “It’s hard not to do well. The support from the management and the club itself is tremendous. I have a lot of loyalty to Frankfurt. They supported me for the last four years, I started my professional career there and each year it has gotten better for me.”
When Krieger informed some of her teammates of her decision to head home, there were some tears, a lot of hugs, but certainly also understanding. They are all footballers after all and they appreciate the importance and significance of playing for one’s country.
“I wanted to give myself the full chance to play in a World Cup and an Olympics and make sure nothing was standing in my way to achieve these goals,” said Krieger, who added that her German teammates are excited to come visit her in the USA at some point. “I wanted to look back with no regrets, saying I should have done this or that. The toughest part is my life outside of soccer. That is really tough to leave. I’ve built a home for myself, learned a new culture, made a lot of new friends, and Germany was where all my stuff was. I came with two bags and I had to pack up a whole life.”
While one never knows what twists and turns life will take, Krieger is sure that she would never have been in this position – on the Women’s World Cup squad – had it not been for her experience in Germany. That’s one of the reasons she found it so difficult to leave the club.
“I’m a lot tougher now than when I left for Europe,” said Krieger. “I think with the culture in Germany outside of football, you are forced to be a little more direct and not take things so personally. I really had to adjust to that. At first I was really offended sometimes, but to them it was nothing. It’s just the way the culture is. They are honest, direct, punctual people.”
On the field, Krieger quickly found that she needed to adapt or would be left behind. Learning German of course helped her communication and she is now so comfortable with the language that she has struggled for a day or two in transitioning to English after she joins the U.S. team.
“I play a lot faster, I think quicker and I was forced to change my style because in Germany, you get yelled at pretty quickly if you take too many touches on the ball,” said Krieger. “I didn’t want to get yelled at anymore, so I figured I’d better take quicker touches and maybe they would start liking me more. So I started playing like them and that worked out well for me.”
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
The circuitous nature of Krieger’s journey is not lost on her. To go to Germany to get on the U.S. team to get to play in a World Cup in Germany is not something you can plan, but somewhere on the edge of her daydreams, Krieger knew striking out on this great adventure was the right thing to do.
“My ultimate goal was to play on the national team,” said Krieger “It’s just amazing how the whole thing worked out. I wanted to go over for a couple of years and see if I could improve myself, but it ended working out better than I expected. I got better, quicker and smarter and now the timing is perfect for being able to succeed at this level, the highest level. Germany helped me do that. It was a stepping stone to get here and have this opportunity.”
Coming back to Germany has so far been an extremely enjoyable experience for Krieger. She’s been doing interviews in German, translating for her teammates and enjoying the culture that has become second nature to her.
“It's amazing,” she said. “Right when I got off the flight and I got in the airport I felt like I was home. It was a really enjoyable feeling and I was really happy. I'm excited to be back, speak German and see my friends and family.”
They say travel is the best classroom, and if that’s true, Krieger has done her post-grad in the best way possible, opening her eyes to new possibilities for improvement as an athlete and a citizen of the world.
“Being forced to learn a completely different culture and a language, I’m more aware, more patient and more accepting of people from around the world,” said Krieger. “My perspective has grown and I’ve just learned so much living in a different country, watching people and meeting new friends. Germany will always be my second home.”
So, what do you say, Hollywood? Working title: Kick It Like Krieger.