National Women's Soccer League
Ali Krieger on Final: "It's Very Important To Be Here"
October 08, 2016
LAST YEAR the Washington Spirit finished in fourth place and earned a spot in the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs. However, traveling to Seattle, and without captain Ali Krieger—who missed the match to attend her father’s wedding that same day—the team fell 3-0 to the Seattle Reign.
Now, the Spirit and Krieger are back, with a chance to win their first NWSL title when they take on the Western New York Flash on Sunday in Houston (5pm ET, Fox Sports 1).
Since its inception, the NWSL had a somewhat contentious relationship with its U.S. national team players. Often, the Americans leave early, or return late, from international breaks. And the clubs, due to the convoluted nature of the players’ league contracts—which are paid by U.S. Soccer—have little power to change that behavior.
Those conflicts have led many fans, pundits, and even some within the league, to believe that the NWSL comes second to the national team. This year, however, Krieger has helped shift that narrative.
Following the U.S.’ quicker-than-expected departure from the 2016 Olympics, most national team players took time off to process the squad’s failure before returning to their clubs. Krieger, on the other hand, was the first American to return to league play and featured in a 2-1 win over Houston six days after the U.S. loss to Sweden.
Washington’s win over the Dash that night helped spark a four-game unbeaten run for the Spirit in which it picked up 10 points in 21 days. Washington ended up finishing second in the league this year, earning home-field advantage for the playoffs. Then, in the semifinals, the Spirit beat Chicago in a dramatic 2-1 extra-time win to capture a place in the title game.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s final, Krieger said last year’s absence has “absolutely” given added meaning to this year’s final.
“Last year was really tough for me because family, to me, always comes first,” explained Krieger. “That was really important to not miss that occasion. Unfortunately, [my dad’s wedding] just so happened to fall on the same day.
“This is very, very important for me to be here. I hold this league just as high as anything else that I’ve been a part of, especially the national team level. I take it very seriously, as does everyone in this organization and my other teammates.
“I’m very loyal to this organization, to this league, to my national team, to my country. It’s an honor to be here [and] finally be in an NWSL final,” she added.
Washington head coach Jim Gabarra echoed that sentiment, pointing out that he didn’t pressure Krieger to return early to the Spirit, instead arguing his defender was self-motivated to come back to the club so quickly: “Her attitude was, ‘I want to get back into the team as quick as possible. I want to get back to playing.'”
Washington midfielder Tori Huster credited Krieger’s leadership in coming back early, and like Gabarra, spoke about how the Spirit’s team chemistry may have contributed to the decision.
“Ali is a leader on our team. I really respected her decision to come back,” said Huster.
“I think we definitely do make it a little bit easier for our national team players to come back in because we have so much fun together and we really respect each other. On and off the field, our locker room is one of the best, if not the best in the league.”
For her part, Krieger is just excited to get on the field on Sunday and lead her team to a championship.
“I’m motivated to carry this team on my back.”
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.