We recently caught up with soccer star Ali Krieger, defender for the U.S. Women’s National Team, ahead of her first Olympic appearance in Rio. Krieger is proud to represent the U.S., so she teamed up with Jif to find out how Team USA impacted fans back home. As part of that partnership, she chose to share some ups and downs from her career and talk about her mindset heading into the Olympics.
What’s your earliest soccer memory?
My first soccer memory was probably playing indoor soccer, chasing my brother around. He was one of the first who introduced me to soccer along with my father, who was the coach and trainer and played professionally. I was around soccer most of my youth and growing up. I think that I have a natural likeness to it. I did whatever my brother would do and try to do it better.
Have you always been a defender?
No, I haven’t. I played a bunch of different positions. I grew up playing center midfielder my entire career until I got to college, where I played outside mid on the right-hand side. I moved back to center mid, but one of our center backs in college got hurt. We had an extra center mid but didn’t have another defensive player or center back. They just decided to move me back there and see how I would do. I actually felt pretty good and they liked me there, so they kept me there the rest of the season. For the national team that’s where I had kind of molded the two positions together and moved to outside back, and I’ve stayed there ever since.
What was it like playing in Germany immediately after college?
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t want to have a 9-5 [job] just yet. I wanted to continue to play at the highest level and I wanted to eventually be on the national team. But the only way I could do that was going overseas and getting in games. I knew that staying around in Virginia playing pickup twice a week with my friends from high school wasn’t really going to do it. I decided to just go for it. I had two bags and went by myself. I got invited to a training [camp] for one of the best teams in the Bundesliga, FFC Frankfurt, so I trained for a week. They asked me to sign for two years, and I just jumped at the opportunity. I took that risk and said, “If I don’t like it, I can always come home.” I ended up staying for five and a half years and really enjoying it, winning a Champions League title. I owe a lot of my professionalism and my spot on the national team to Frankfurt and that amazing club. They always have a special place in my heart.
How did your knee injury in 2012 test you?
It was devastating. I was playing at the top of my game. Right after the World Cup in 2011, coming off of that tournament where US soccer turned into such an inspiration for a lot of Americans and changed the game for women’s football, I was so excited to be a part of that Olympic qualifying team and tournament that next January. Then I got injured and everything kind of fell apart. That was right before the Olympics. I had to start from zero again. I missed out on the Olympics, and that experience really set me back, but it gave me a lot of perspective.
I really went through the rehab process. I stayed motivated, put in the work, and now had a new 9-5 job in the rehab facility. I think because I made sure I did the strenuous training, I came back 10 times better than I was before. Obviously I missed out on the Olympics in 2012 but, I came back even stronger and a much better player because I focused on the details that I may not have had I never got injured.
Where does the World Cup victory rank in your favorite career moments?
It’s at the very top. It’s one of the best moments of my life. That is the dream come true for every footballer in the world. It was the most rewarding experience because you work your entire life, day in and day out to get to that moment, to stand on that podium, to see the gold confetti fall, to hold that World Cup trophy, to have all your family and friends there to witness it who have been a part of your journey. It was a dream come true. I still get choked up talking about it.
How are you feeling about heading to Rio?
Obviously it wasn’t an easy road. I’m so excited to be a part of Team USA. I’m thrilled at the opportunity. I missed out on the previous two, so this is a dream come true. I’m at the doorstep of the Olympics, and it’s a dream to represent my family, my friends, my teammates, and our entire country.
Photo: Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images