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11 Questions with Ali Krieger

GUANGZHOU, China (January 11, 2007) - The USA brought four uncapped players to the 2008 Four Nations Tournament. Among them is Ali Krieger, a former Penn State All-American who hails from suburban Virginia. Unlike many young players who cut their teeth during FIFA youth world championships for the USA, Krieger did not take the traditional road to the National Team. She sat down with to answer 11 questions about her major injury in college, her breakthrough with the U.S. U-21s and her experience of playing for one of the top club teams in the world. This is your first experience with the full U.S. National Team. What are your impressions so far?

Ali Krieger: “I feel honored to be a part of the first roster of 2008, to be a part of this team and represent not only myself but my country. Growing up, it’s been a dream of mine to get to this point. I’ve watched so many of these girls play and I’ve always wanted to be a part of it. So far, the experience has been amazing and I’ve enjoyed every minute. I still have a long way to go to work my way into this team, but for sure it’s very rewarding to know that all the hard work over the years has led to this opportunity.” All of the other young players on this roster played in a FIFA youth world championship for the USA. You only had three career international U-21 caps, all coming at the Nordic Cup last summer, and didn’t get the chance to play for the U-19s or U-20s. What has kept you going and motivated to play at a high level?

AK: “I’ve been motivated by my goals. I figured just because I didn’t make one of the U-19 or U-20 teams, it didn’t mean that my chances were over. I figured if I just worked hard every day, my chance would come. Having this dream since I was 10 years old, and continuing to play at a high level and knowing deep down how much I wanted to play with these players, was all the motivation I needed.” U.S. U-21 (now U-23s) head coach Bill Irwin said you were one of the best players on the Nordic Cup team last summer. How did the experience of playing with the U-21s and in the Nordic Cup help you in your development?

AK: “Being coached by Bill was a great experience in itself. I learned so much from him and he managed our team so well. I respect everything that he did. He was really serious about taking care of business on the field, but he also knew how to let us have fun. Everyone really enjoyed that atmosphere and that made me want to really work hard for him, my teammates and the coaching staff. I learned a lot on the field, but also off the field, just how the team meshed and how the great team chemistry helped us win. The experience of being part of a National Team that won an important tournament gives you confidence and that certainly helped me when I got to this environment.” You broke your leg badly at the end of your junior year in college. Can you talk about what happened?

AK: “It was the Wednesday after the Big-10 Tournament. We had lost to Michigan after double-overtime and PKs, but we made the NCAA tournament and were preparing for the first-round playoff game that Friday. At the end of practices, we always scrimmaged and some of the men’s club players would come out and play with us sometimes. It was a bit wet out, raining, and I received the ball in the center of the field, took a touch with my left foot, dribbled past this guy and he slipped and bundled into me. He landed right on my outstretched leg and broke my right fibula. I knew immediately that something was terribly wrong. I felt like my ankle was up by my neck. I went straight to the hospital.” How hard was the comeback? You had some complications that were potentially life threatening?

AK: “The comeback was definitely hard because that year we went to the Final Four, which was one of my soccer goals in life. I was with the team, but to be on the sidelines was one of the hardest things I’ve had to experience. I tried to be a vocal leader instead of a leader on the field, but it was hard. Luckily, I had another year, so I told myself that I needed to keep my head up, that I would be the captain of the team as a senior and that I couldn’t get down on myself because I still had to be a leader of the team. Still, I had a different perspective after the injury. We lost seven seniors and we had a lot of young players on the team. I realized how I wanted to return to the Final Four the next year and actually play this time. Then, that January, I got multiple blood clots in my leg that went my lungs and I was in the hospital for week. It was really scary and really serious. They said if I hadn’t gone to the hospital that night, if I had gone sleep, that I probably wouldn’t have made it. After I recovered, the rehab took until July to really get back in the groove and playing again. I didn’t get back in time to play for the U-21s that summer, but fortunately I got the chance again the year after.” You are playing in Germany with FFC Frankfurt, one of the top women’s clubs in Europe and the world. How did that come about?

AK: “My dad is a coach in Virginia and one of his former high school players – Grover Gibson – had gone to Germany after high school to play professionally. I saw him during the summer of 2007 and he told me if I wanted to play in Germany he had some contacts with Frankfurt. I was done with school and I knew I wanted to keep playing. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I didn’t want to sit behind a desk and work a 9-to-5 job, so I figured why not travel the world and have that kind of experience while I was still young.” There are many German National Team players on Frankfurt. How has that experience been so far?

AK: “It’s been tough, but fun. The language and the style of play have been the most difficult adjustments. They play so quickly and they are not afraid to get on your case and tell you want you are doing wrong. I’ve learned that you can’t take things personally and I think it’s made me tougher for sure. I’ve learned a lot of German, but it was definitely a culture shock outside of soccer. Still, playing with such great players has been a fantastic experience. It’s honestly some of the best soccer you can play in the world outside the National Team. On Frankfurt, I am basically playing with the German National Team. We have Birgit Prinz and five other full National Team players.” You’ve played with the Washington Freedom club since the WUSA folded. That must have helped in your development as a player as well?

AK: “Of course. That was my first experience playing with older players outside of my freshman year in college. It really helped me develop as a player and I think you learn a lot from older players both on and off the field. I actually think I developed most as a soccer player with the Freedom during that time in my life and that opened my eyes to different opportunities. When the pro league comes back, it will be great for all the top players in the country, just for those reasons.” You played outside midfield as a freshman in college, attacking center mid as a sophomore and junior, and center back as a senior. You played defensive midfielder for the U.S. U-21s, yet you are giving it a go at right back with the full team. How has that transition been?

AK: “It’s been great. I love it. I feel like when I play on the outside, it’s similar to an attacking role, but I love defending as well. I just feel like I have time and space out there to attack, which I’ve done a lot with Frankfurt. But honestly, I like defending. I like being the last line of defense and being able to see the entire field.” Who were some of the female players you looked up to while growing up?

AK: “Mia Hamm, who went to high school in Virginia near my hometown, but I also liked Carla Overbeck, Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy. They were all great leaders, but Mia was my number one role model. I respect all of the players who have made an impact on this team and what they have done for women’s soccer and this country.” You played your youth club soccer with the Prince William Sparklers. Was it ever, at any time, embarrassing to play for a team called the Sparklers when you weren’t 10 years old?

AK: “That’s funny because we were going to change our name when we were like 15, when we were “too cool” to be called the Sparklers, but we had the name since we were seven years old. We had won a lot of tournaments and state championships so we just didn’t want to change as eight of us stayed together from U-8s to U-19s. I admit that getting in the huddle at the beginning of the game and yelling “Sparklers!” was embarrassing, but we were definitely proud. Still, when someone asks me today what club team I played for, I say Prince William.”