- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Northern Virginia native Ali Krieger was named to her second U.S. women’s world cup team Tuesday. Krieger has been a staple with the national team for five years. The Washington Times talked with the 30-year-old right back for the Washington Spirit about making the team again, her recent concussion and that memorable penalty kick that beat Brazil.

The rest of us found out Tuesday. When did you find out you were officially on the Wold Cup team?
Sunday. We had to wait. [The Spirit] had a game on Friday. We were supposed to find out on Friday. No matter what the decision was — if I made it or not — I guess our coach [Jill Ellis] thought it was appropriate to wait until the game was over, but then I ended up getting a concussion. It wasn’t the right time to do it after the match because I was a bit out of it. Sunday, whenever I got home, around 5 p.m., we spoke on the phone just to catch up and she let me know the good news.

Q: How was hearing the news this time different than 2011, if it was?
I guess I was younger, I wasn’t on the team that long, so I guess it was more of a, ‘Wow, I’m really going to go to the World Cup. This is a dream come true.’ It was kind of like a good surprise for me. It was only within a year that I had come back to the U.S. team and solidified a starting position. I still wasn’t sure what my role really was going to be. I was just playing and doing the best I could in the position I was in and just hoping that she would take me. I think I was a little more nervous the first time around. This time, I think as a veteran player, I think that I was not comfortable in thinking it was going to be a smooth ride, I never get complacent, I just work my butt off every day to be the best right back I can be not only for this time, but in the world. I guess just having that comfort of being a starter … I think a little bit more confident and comfortable. I guess it wasn’t such a surprise for me. It’s an honor any time my name is called to put on that jersey and represent my country on the biggest stage.

Q: Who is the first person you tell that you made it?
A: I immediately do a group text with my family, my brother, my mom and my dad. Send a message out to them. Then, I guess everyone else finds out usually through social media. Just call my best friend and let her know; my closest friends, little tight-knit group of four or five friends.

Q: How would you describe the moment, from setting the ball in place to seeing the shot on its way, to the celebration when your penalty kick in the 2011 World Cup against Brazil went in to give the U.S. a win?
A: It was so slow. I was just waiting for it just to cross the net. When it did, I just immediately turned around and started sprinting after my team. I don’t think I was thinking, I just turned around and sprinted. I was just so excited. I was screaming and all the girls are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. We didn’t know what to do.

Q: How would you describe your professional experience playing in Germany from 2007 through 2012?
A: It was one of the best experiences of my life, both on and off the field. Soccer wise, learning a new style of play which is kind of be more technical and tactical and calm on the ball. In the U.S. we have this more athletic type of style. We press the ball so hard and so fast. I think in Europe, they’re just a little bit more laid back on the ball. Very technical. They keep the ball one or two touches. Here in the U.S., we love to run and we’re very, very athletic. We’re becoming more technical as the game evolves because we have to evolve with it. But I think that was the biggest difference. Off the field, learning a new culture, language, lifestyle and new people and meeting lifelong friends, kind of opening my eyes to a brand-new perspective on life, really, really helped me in my life off the field. I think every player should have that type of opportunity. Some it works out and some it doesn’t, but I think if you can hand on and it works out for you, then it’s such a positive influence on you.

Q: How many German words did you know when you arrived there?
I knew hello and thank you. I had no idea what I was doing. But, it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.

Q: Is not being part of the U.S. team at the 2012 London Olympics because of injury the biggest disappointment of your soccer career?
A: No, no, it’s not. I don’t think there’s any disappointment in my career because everything that maybe didn’t go my way was a learning experience. I think from that experience of getting injured [tearing the ACL and MCL in my right knee], I’m now a better footballer from it. Obviously, I was devastated that I didn’t get the opportunity to win a gold medal with the girls, but it could have ended up completely different if I were on that team. Also, I think that maybe I wouldn’t be in the same position I am right now to speak about being in a second World Cup if I would have never gotten injured, because I don’t think I would have paid attention to all the little details I needed to at that time like stability exercises, my footwork exercises and paying attention to building my muscles in my legs to help make me into a better player. All of these little details that I spent doing countless hours every single day to get back, I think has made me a better player than I was before my injury. So, no, I don’t think it was a disappointment. Obviously, I was upset that I couldn’t be a part of that because your dream of being a gold medalist, but at the end of the day I think I learned so much from that and now I am in a better position than I was before I got injured.

Q: Did you watch those games on TV?
A: Of course. I watched most of it in Germany during rehab. My club allowed me to 24 hours free; I liked begged them to allow me to go the final. It kind of sucked to have to beg them instead of them just allowing me to go. They gave me 24 hours free, so I was able to go and watch the final and hang out with the girls after the match and fly back and continue my rehab. I was really happy to see that. It also brought tears to my eyes, especially when Megan Rapinoe pulled out the little note she made me on my birthday. July 28 during the Olympics against Colombia, she scored the first goal. She pulled out a, ‘Happy birthday, Kriegy.’ It was kind of a moving experience for me, because I wanted to be there so bad. I couldn’t be there physically, I just had to be there vocally and that was an adjustment for me.

Q: Did you calmly watch or were you yelling at a TV as if you were on the field?
A: No. I’m yelling. I’m yelling at my teammates, I’m yelling at the other team, I’m yelling at the refs. I couldn’t sit still on the couch. I was just frustrated at time, and just so happy at times and then just cheering them on … most importantly, I was just super proud. They just included me all the time. We sent emails constantly back in forth, checking in and they were checking in on me. Obviously, staying connected in social media. I wanted them to to understand I was still with them. They obviously reciprocated that, making sure I was still as much a part of that team as they were. That was a nice moment for me.

Q: You were concussed last Friday, April 11, during a National Women’s Soccer League match in Houston. What was the play and what do you recall?
A: In the 17th minute, a ball came across and I went to go get it out of the box. And, she came on my blind side … I don’t really remember the play at all. I’ve just watched it over and over. I headed it away, outside in the opposite direction. She came in completely late and nailed my head. I just went immediately unconscious before I hit the ground. Landed on my shoulder and my side and face down. It took me about a minute to wake up and realize what had happened and where I was. I had no idea why I was on the ground or why people were talking to me. It was kind of a weird situation.

Q: Have you had a concussion before?
A: Yeah, two years ago, 2013, I suffered a concussion that took me about two months to fully recover from. It was a lot worse than this one. That’s actually putting a smile on my face because I feel a lot better, I think, with the healing process with this concussion than I did two years ago.

Q: What’s your treatment schedule now and can this injury endanger your World Cup spot?
A: No, no. It won’t endanger my spot. If I can’t get my mind to settle and feel good when I start exercising — if I still have trouble before the tournament starts [June 6 in Canada], obviously, I’ll be a little bit more upset. That’s why I’m resting completely right now, until my symptoms get down, then I can start even like walking around, jogging and go through all the protocols for concussion, the whole training plan they have set up for me with the national team and Washington Spirit. I’m just resting, I’m at home right now. I was able to get out of the house and walk around a little bit because I can only sit there for so long. I’m super active, so sitting on the couch and staring at the walls isn’t ideal for me. I take a walk around the neighborhood and go to the local store. I try to stay away from the computer, my TV and my phone of course, which is extremely difficult at times.

Q: If the younger you, the 10 or 12 year old playing soccer and dreaming of what could be, saw how your career has turned out, what would the younger you think?
A: I would probably think I were pretty cool (laughs). And, I think I would be proud of myself. I think that knowing all the hard work that took to get where I am and never giving up, I think would really would, I guess, impress me.

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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