A few boxes still need unpacking, but otherwise Ali Krieger is pretty much settled into her new home.
She arrived in Orlando at the end of December, looking forward to the weather change from Washington D.C. but still dealing with feelings of frustration over abruptly being traded away by her hometown team.
That didn’t sway her focus. She immediately got to work training with some new teammates and with Orlando City SC’s under-16 academy team.
The Pride acquired Krieger — a U.S. women’s national team defender who led the Washington Spirit to the National Women’s Soccer League final last year as team captain — in November, giving up only the club’s No. 2 distribution ranking order to the Spirit.
Many balked at the trade. Others surmised Krieger must have been unhappy or may have asked to be traded since Washington let her go for so little. Distribution ranking order determines priority in selecting unattached national-team level players.
“I didn’t ask to come here,” Krieger told the Orlando Sentinel in an interview Friday. “To be honest with you, I was a bit caught off guard. I didn’t want to leave Washington at that time. I didn’t realize Washington was even thinking about that. But, to be able to come to a first-class club like Orlando, I’m so happy to be here out of any club that could’ve taken me. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Krieger, 32, brings experience, leadership and quality at right back. She joins a back line that also features Australian national team players Steph Catley, Laura Alleway and Alanna Kennedy, along with versatile Brazilian Monica.
A Penn State grad, Krieger debuted with the U.S. national team in 2008. After nearly 100 international appearances and overcoming injuries and setbacks, she became the Americans’ oldest first-time women’s soccer Olympian when she joined the national team in Brazil for the 2016 Rio Olympics. She also helped the U.S. in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups.
She will continue wearing No. 11 with the Pride as she has much of her U.S. career.
Prior to her four years playing for the Spirit, Krieger lived and played for clubs in Germany from 2007-2012.
“Ich bin ein Fußballspieler für den Orlando Pride...“ Krieger rattled off fluently in German.
She continued speaking before translating what she said: “I am a football player for the Orlando Pride. I’m so excited to be here and play really, really good football.”
That is easier in Orlando, according to Krieger, because of the facilities and the attention of staff.
When asked her thoughts about Orlando City SC’s new 25,500-seat stadium, which will open March 5 for the Major League Soccer team’s first match of the season and then also host the Pride and USL side Orlando City B, Krieger exhaled before saying, “I can’t believe we’re even allowed to play in a stadium like that.”
She echoed concerns many players and teams have expressed before, relating to inconsistency of quality standards around the league.
“Everything has been first class, which is not what I guess I’m used to, from the staff, the coaches, the players,” Krieger said. “They’ve constantly been asking me, ‘Hey, what do you need? How can we make this process easier?’ It’s been such a smooth process that I can actually just focus on what I need to focus on, which is the football aspect of things. All my energy now is placed on my job instead of worrying about other details that need to be fixed outside of the club.”
A regular advocate for players rights on both the club and national level, Krieger is at the forefront of the U.S. women’s national team’s fight for equal pay and collective bargaining agreement negotiations. She also advocates for NWSL players — many of whom are not paid living wages — to get the care they need to perform at the highest level. Things like nutritionists and massage therapists, even full-time staff within a club were not regularly available in the past, Krieger said.
“Here, the players are put first and the club will bend over backwards and provide anything the players really need to perform at their best on the field and really be at 100 percent,” Krieger said of the Orlando Pride. “In previous years, I’ve had to fight a lot more for the players.
“It’s the little things…certain things the team needs to perform at [its] best. I don’t want to bash the club I came from, my hometown, which I have a lot of respect for, but it needs to be better around the league, not only there. And I think Orlando, along with Portland, is proving that they’re putting their players first. I think other clubs need to follow suit, because you’re going to start to see a lot of players leaving if things don’t change.”
It’s unlikely Krieger is going anywhere, though. When asked during a live interview with fans Friday where she sees herself in 10 years, Krieger said she wants to work for or own an NWSL club.
For now, she’s focused on the upcoming Pride season. She aims to serve as a leader and role model, especially with national team forward Alex Morgan playing in France until June.
“We’ll be excited when she gets back, but we’ll take care of business until then,” Krieger said, adding she hopes to bring organization and consistency to the team.
The first year of existence for clubs can be chaotic and difficult as coaching staffs work to build chemistry among players and test them in multiple positions to find a successful recipe.
The Pride finished their inaugural season second to last in the league and made multiple offseason personnel moves in an attempt to improve for 2017 — bringing in Krieger was one of them.
“We’re going to have a good back line to help feed the balls to the front six, and hopefully they’ll get their job done,” she said.