On Friday, Ali Krieger was publicly thanked on a Times Square billboard for changing the world, and given the global icon photo-shoot treatment at the One World Observatory. She was then handed the honor of ringing the closing bell at the world’s largest stock exchange.
New York City gave her a truly memorable send-off at the end of an emotional few days in which the two-time FIFA World Cup winner’s name was also in the headlines due to her divorce proceedings.
Yet ever the professional, Krieger kept her focus firmly on Sunday, and made her most impactful appearance of the whole week by arriving in the nick of time with a sliding goal-line save in the first half of NJ/NY Gotham FC’s ‘Decision Day’ home game against Kansas City Current.
That intervention and her marshaling of the defense in a goalless second half helped to take her team into the NWSL playoffs and prolong her competitive career by at least one more match.
ALI KRIEGER GOAL LINE SAVE pic.twitter.com/q70CFjxApC— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 15, 2023
Over 9,000 fans — a 50% increase on the team’s average attendance this season – were at Red Bull Arena to say farewell to the 39-year-old center-back and find out whether Gotham FC could get the result they needed against the Current to finish inside the top six.
A 2-2 draw and results elsewhere made for a nervous evening but by the end, Krieger was getting celebratory bumps from her team-mates and was able to start her speech to fans by screaming: “It’s not over yet!”
Stood in front of a framed shirt marking this as her 176th NWSL game — only five players have made more appearances in the League — she thanked her kids Sloane and Ocean, and her team-mates and coaches, before reflecting on her soccer journey.
The decision to sign for Frankfurt in summer 2007 was pivotal. “I took a risk when I was 23,” she said of her move to Germany. “I didn’t know what to expect but it led me to my dream job.”
In her first season with the Bundesliga club, she won a treble of trophies — the domestic league and cup plus the UEFA Women’s Cup, the forerunner of what is now the Champions League.
Midway through that campaign, she was also called up to the U.S. Women’s National Team squad for the first time, winning the first of her 108 caps in January 2008.
Speaking to those in the stadium — many of whom were sporting special ‘Ali Krieger Fan Club’ T-shirts — she said: “Don’t be afraid to take that risk, to make yourself uncomfortable because that’s when you learn the most.”
The role Krieger played in securing the historic pay equity deal with U.S. Soccer, raising standards in the NWSL and achieving greater recognition for women’s footballers everywhere cannot be underestimated.
Her relationship with Ashlyn Harris began in 2010 when they met at a USWNT training camp. They publicly announced their engagement in March 2019 and after both were part of the squad that won the World Cup in France, they were married at the end of that year.
In a feature by Grant Wahl for Sports Illustrated, published a few weeks after their wedding, Krieger recalled a conversation with Megan Rapinoe that led to her and Harris deciding to be more visible.
“You know, it’s fine to be private and not put yourselves out there, we totally get it,” Krieger said Rapinoe told them. “But if you guys do, then you would be helping so many young people who are struggling with feeling the same way, and making sure that they’re comfortable in their own skin and being their authentic selves. It would be so powerful if you guys announced that you are together.”
After March 2019, they quickly became known as the USWNT’s power couple and like Rapinoe, they used their platform to advocate for LGBTQ rights — most recently in Florida, the state they have called home — and to talk about mental health.
Moving from Orlando Pride to play for Gotham FC, the team finished bottom of the table in 2022 with Harris retiring at the end of the season.
In the current campaign, however, Krieger has been outstanding at the back — even tipped by The Athletic as a Defender of the Year contender — and her presence combined with her leadership qualities proved key to Gotham FC making the playoffs.
A cryptic tweet in midweek from Krieger’s brother Kyle suggested the news about her relationship status dropping in the week of her retirement game was not coincidental. Nevertheless, she handled the difficulties commendably.
Gotham FC will now travel to face North Carolina Courage this coming Sunday, Oct. 23. “I’m so proud to put on this jersey every single day, and I’m so proud to lead this team,” Krieger added in her speech. “I can’t wait for next weekend!”
Meanwhile, Rapinoe scored twice Sunday as OL Reign won 3-0 away to Chicago Red Stars to earn themselves not just a playoff berth but also home advantage in the first round.
That means another game at Lumen Field for Rapinoe, who pulled in an NWSL record attendance at the start of the month for her own farewell match.
Jess Fishlock, one of the few players to have made more NWSL appearances than Krieger, was the Reign’s other scorer. As reported by All For XI:
This was a re-tread of yester years for the Reign. At the peak of their powers, Rapinoe and Fishlock were almost unstoppable (especially during 2014-2015) and with Rapinoe nearing the end of her professional career, it seemed almost fitting that she and Fishlock would spearhead OL Reign’s progression to the playoffs.
The Reign will host Angel City SC on Friday night, with the winner of that match going on to face standings-toppers San Diego Wave who lifted the NWSL Shield Sunday after seeing off Racing Louisville 2-0.
The Shield is the first item of silverware claimed by Casey Stoney in her stint as Wave head coach. The former England captain led the team to the semi-finals last season where they lost to eventual champions Portland Thorns.
The Thorns, who were runners-up to Wave in the standings this season, will take on the winner of the Gotham vs Courage tie. Both semi-finals will be played on Nov. 6, with the Championship Game on Nov. 12.
Krieger is certainly fired up for the playoffs. She drew her emotional speech at Red Bull Arena to a close by addressing the Gotham FC fans directly. “It’s been a dream come true to play for you all these years... I can’t wait to show my kids one day how much motivation I received from all of you.
“Now let’s go and win a championship!”
The Reign, on the other side of the draw, might yet stand in the way of that ambition. But before anyone’s thoughts would turn towards the playoffs, Rapinoe was sending her own personal message to her old friend Krieger on Instagram:
“How to even put into words, my dear, this incredible career you have had. There are far too many moments to start naming but your 100 caps, your World Cup final 2019, and mostly, all the f**ks you have given and all the f**ks you did not give”.
As Krieger herself said, it’s not over yet. The story continues for these two legends of the game.