Hours after announcing she’ll retire from professional soccer this year, Ali Krieger opened up to Boardroom about her final season at the top level, life as a mother, and shaping her next chapter.
Ali Krieger is happy.
The decorated defender didn’t hesitate when asked how she felt shortly after announcing she will retire at the end of the 2023 NWSL season. Still feeling the adrenaline from revealing the news live on CBS Mornings, the two-time World Cup winner sat down with Boardroom to look back on the path that led her here and the many adventures still in store. It was a rainy Thursday afternoon just outside New York City as Krieger took some time to reflect shortly after a training session with NJ/NY Gotham FC.
“I think by saying it out loud, it really kind of finalizes it but also puts it into perspective,” she said. “I’m just really happy that it’s kind of out in the open. Now, I can just focus on the season ahead with Gotham.”
After stints in the nation’s capital, overseas in Germany, and alongside wife Ashlyn Harris in Orlando, Gotham Sky Blue, Gotham Black, and Cloud White will be the final colors Krieger dons in her illustrious 17-year pro career.
In December of 2021, the Pride traded Krieger and Harris to Gotham FC in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft and other incentives, but the subsequent season wasn’t the one the club’s players and fans alike had hoped for. Gotham netted just 13 points in 22 games, placing them at the bottom of the NWSL table. Fast-forwarding to days before their first match of 2023 against Angel City FC on Sunday, March 26, however, spirits are high and the team is full of new faces on and off the pitch. Juan Carlos Amorós enters his first season as head coach, while key roster additions include USWNT vets Lynn Williams and Kelley O’Hara, the latter making history in late 2022 as the league’s first-ever free agent acquisition.
So, with a squad bolstered by elite talents used to that championship feeling, are the women of Gotham FC still flying under the radar?
“I don’t necessarily think we’re underdogs,” the 38-year-old Krieger said assuredly. “I just feel like we have a different mentality. We have new players and we have a new staff who have really instilled better leadership and they’ve helped set us up for success.”
Krieger says the team didn’t necessarily lack those qualities last year; rather, everyone knows what’s expected of them this time around. Most importantly, they recognize that this is a franchise that wants to uphold New York’s championship history — and Krieger knows a thing or two about hardware. The Virginia native has lifted just about every trophy under the sun during her professional career, including two FIFA World Cups (2015, 2019), a UEFA Champions League (2008), and two She Believes Cup trophies (2016, 2020) among a laundry list of individual honors.
The only thing missing from her crowded trophy cabinet? The NWSL championship. As her final season commences, that’s the major task at hand between now and the season’s final match on Nov. 11, and Krieger couldn’t help but feel confident in her pursuit of one more keepsake — especially as Gotham FC’s next captain as voted by her peers.
“It’s an honor I don’t take lightly and I need to bring my best every single day, both on and off the field,” she said. “I know that in this position, it’s somewhat of a direct reflection of how successful you can be, but I feel like no matter if you’re wearing the armband or not, I would do the same thing anyway. However, I do feel a sense of responsibility to kind of carry everybody with me and make sure that everybody remains an extension of the coaching staff, understands their roles and responsibilities, and how we can keep the team going in one direction and keep everyone bought in on the task at hand.”
From the Pitch to Playdates
Throughout our conversation, Ali Krieger maintains a megawatt smile, even while discussing the challenges of being a pro athlete. If you can believe it, the smile nonetheless manages to widen as she begins discussing motherhood. She and Harris are parents to two-year-old Sloane and eight-month-old Ocean; Krieger jokes she’s “living in a state of exhaustion,” but is also capable of more patience than she once thought.
As mothers to biracial children, Krieger says she and Harris will eventually need to have conversations about race and equality with both. Even more earnestly, the Penn State grad admits they can’t facilitate these discussions alone.
Enter the army of allies surrounding the power couple. Krieger says she makes it a point to introduce Sloane and Ocean to other people of color, including friends, family, and teammates.
“We just want to make sure we create a safe space for our kids to feel seen, to feel valued and appreciated,” she told Boardroom. “I never want to tell my kids what to do. I just want to give them the proper tools to be able to figure it out themselves. I also want to, within that space, make sure there are people who look like them and not necessarily who look like us. But at the core, we want them to understand that we are all human beings and need to appreciate one another no matter what kind of background we come from, no matter what gender or race.”
Playing with her children and watching them grow will be a major perk of retired life, but that also begs a question: Do the kids currently know who their mothers really are?
Well, kind of.
“Sloane’s starting to figure out,” Krieger said. “My mom said when they were watching the game, I think one from last year on TV, she would say, ‘Mommy, mommy.’ Like, when she saw my face. Ash was injured at that time. She kind of like has an idea, especially when she’s able to run onto the field and she sees us in uniform. I don’t think she knows what type of level or anything like that, but she understands that I do play soccer and when she sees a soccer ball in the house, she relates it to that.”
When the Curtain Finally Falls
When those 22 regular season (plus maybe some postseason) matches come and go this season, an eduringly influential figure in women’s soccer will take her final bow. As for what’s next professionally, however, Ali Krieger is somewhat undecided. A November championship parade down the streets of New York and New Jersey would be nice. Looking ahead, considering that the defender has lived out of a suitcase for the majority of her adult life, taking time simply to sit down is the next priority.
As she described it, “I do want to take some time to sit and just think about my career and let it sink in. I probably won’t sit still too long — it’s not my personality — but I want to let it sink in a little bit and really reflect on all the good times and moments that have made me into the woman and person I am now. Of course, spending more time with the kids would be great.”
Regardless of how long she manages to stay still, Krieger has earned it, and her off-the-pitch victories are as impressive as what she’s accomplished on it. She has been a staunch advocate for equal pay in soccer for women and men. Her efforts (along with those of countless others) spurred the United States Soccer Federation, the United States Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA), and the United States National Soccer Team Players Association (USNSTPA) to agree to a deal that mandated “equal pay and set the global standard moving forward in international soccer” in May 2022.
Under the deal, US Soccer will become “the first Federation in the world to equalize FIFA World Cup prize money” that squads earn for participating on the sport’s biggest stage. There’s still key progress to be made, however — earlier this month, it was confirmed that the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will feature $150 million in prize money. That’s a 300% increase over the 2019 tournament, but still only about a third of the $440 million the men received for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
Krieger acknowledged that big steps still need to be taken to reach true equality, but the progress so far is worth applauding.
“Equality and respect is something I think we have done a good job of getting to this point and it’s at a really good start, but we have to continue to implement that season after season,” she said. “And I think the direction that women’s soccer is going — or women’s sports in general — is very healthy. But it’s also getting that investment and support from others who might not be directly in contact with soccer or play the sport. Having their backing can help us move forward together.”
As a member of the LGBTQ community, Krieger understands her responsibility as a public figure to continue uplifting and strengthening her relationship with supporters who have been in her corner since day one. In the same breath, she praised her older brother, Kyle, who is openly gay, as an admirable example of what living out staunch advocacy for equal rights looks like.
“He’s one of my heroes,” she said. “I mean, he’s been so ingrained in the LGBTQ community for so long and has made such an impact, I want to just continue that work and use my platform to continue helping in any way I can. He’s been such a great force for Ashlyn and me, a shoulder to lean on, and his advice has been so incredible over the years on all things from our relationship, to navigating the public eye and how to get involved with different organizations.”
Family indeed remains at the core of Ali Krieger’s philosophy for a life well-lived. And as we closed our conversation, she left Boardroom with a final remark that resonates:
“My father always said, ‘you can only control two things in your life, your work ethic and your attitude towards something.’ That was so important for me to hear in my early 20s before I really started on this journey. I try to apply that every day — not only at home, but also at my job more specifically.”
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