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Orlando Pride defender Ali Krieger plays every minute of season, helps spur playoff run

Orlando Pride defender Ali Krieger says she feel as though she’s getting better with age.

At 33, Krieger has played in 179 professional club matches and has 98 caps with the U.S. women’s national team.

Krieger is the only Pride player to stay on the pitch every minute of every Orlando match this season.

“I think the fact that she’s played every minute kind of sums her up as a player and as a person,” said Pride defender Steph Catley, a 23-year-old Australian national team star who played her first senior club match at age 15.

“She just has extremely strong character, very, very positive, will just fight to death. She never switches off in a game. She never wants to lose an individual battle. She’s one of the best that I’ve ever played with in terms of spirit and character and just constantly wanting to be better.”

Krieger brushes off the praise, but acknowledges the ability to stay on the field hasn’t come naturally. It has taken a level of work and devotion every day she never imagined putting in early in her career.

She is always quick to credit her personal trainer, Chris Gorres, and U.S. women’s national team trainer Dawn Scott for helping her practice the ideal running form and hamstring exercises needed to retain her speed.

“I feel good every game and I really take good care of my body, especially as I’ve gotten older,” she said. “I think I focus more on my recovery to get that extra 2 percent to be able to play every minute in every game and I really think that has paid off.

“No, I haven’t [played very game] previous years, but I think that’s just because of the national team and this is kind of an off year for the national team, so I’ve been able to have a lot more time. “

Catley is trying to soak up as many of Krieger’s habits as possible, hoping she might be able to match Krieger’s longevity.

“She played most of her career as a fullback and that’s what I’m doing. To see how long she’s played and the level she’s played at just blows my mind,” Catley said. “She’s doing so well and it definitely gives me hope for the future. If I can keep everything healthy, hopefully I can play as long as Ali Krieger.”

Coach Tom Sermanni wrestles with his lineup every week and closely tracks his players, but he didn’t realize Krieger had not missed a minute on the pitch entering the finale. He joked about resting her during the regular-season finale at North Carolina Saturday ahead of the playoffs, but Krieger insisted she wanted to stay sharp and keep playing.

“There are different kind of players you have on the team and there are players that you put on the team sheet straight away every game, every day and Ali’s one of them,” Sermanni said. “So she brings all the factors you want from a player like that. Stability, leadership, performance.

“… We’re fortunate that we’ve got Ali and she’s such a resilient athlete as well. … She turns up every day at training, puts in a great shift … and does the same in every game.”

The club’s latest marketing campaign has dubbed Krieger “a warrior,” and her teammates say the label fits.

Alex Morgan spent half the season recapturing her love of the game and elevating her play in France. Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris suffered a major injury and missed a big chunk of time. Brazilian superstar Marta wasn’t with the team during the preseason. Many other natural leaders have coped with injuries and missed a bit of time due to international call-ups.

But Krieger, who served as the team’s captain while Harris was out, was always there doing all the little things that it took to turn the Pride into a playoff-bound team for the first time in franchise history.

“I just think when you’re going through your season, you can get into little habits and get complacent at times, but she makes sure at every single training session that we never let up,” midfielder Dani Weatherholt said of Krieger.

“She’ll say, ‘The intensity’s not there.’ She’s just very good at the little details. She’ll come up and say, ‘You know, we’re coming out a little too close to the starting time of practice.’ Those little details that make you a champion, that’s what she brings to the team.”

Krieger often flashes a wide smile and laughs with her teammates, but she also brings a fierce intensity to the pitch. She played for the Washington Spirit last season and reluctantly left her hometown club to join a team she said takes professional soccer as seriously as she does.

“She’s brought a great voice. She’s loud back there,” Morgan said of Krieger. “She’s good at organizing. I think she’s just rock solid and so you just know you have that quality in the back. You know you have that person with so much experience on the international level and on the club level.

“She’s a person that’s not afraid to tackle, not afraid to be aggressive, but also she can play simple and can pick out when I’m running behind.”

While the Pride gain much from Krieger, she calls her teammates an inspiration.

“I’m grateful for the players I’m surrounded by every day,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot playing on different teams … and I think that this has been my favorite experience just because of the caliber of players, the experience of players, the year that all of us have been playing football, learning something new every day.

“… I have a certain confidence on this team that I’m not sure I’ve had previous years.”

ilimon@orlandosentinel.com

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