If you don’t spend much time on women’s soccer TikTok or in lesbian group chats, you may not be fully aware of Ali Krieger’s incredible hero’s journey, which has been playing out in dramatic fashion over the past year. Imagine, if you will, an epic sports movie that is equal parts Bend It Like Beckham, A League of Their Own, and Vanderpump Rules season 10.
Once upon a time, Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris were pro footballers and teammates who fell in love, won a World Cup title, came out publicly, got engaged, won another World Cup, and got married. Their 2019 nuptials were covered by Vogue and the 18-minute wedding video—featuring maid of honor Megan Rapinoe—has more than 2 million views on YouTube. In 2021, the couple adopted their daughter, Sloane. Their son, Ocean, came next, in 2022, the same year Harris retired from soccer. Krieger knew she still had a little more game left to play, and went into her final season as a defender with the NJ/NY Gotham FC determined to bring home her first-ever National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) championship…a pretty ambitious goal, given that Gotham was in last place in 2022. The team—with Krieger as captain—was hungry for a win in 2023, especially since they knew it was her last shot at winning the title.
The year progressed; Gotham was having a good season, which, again, was not a given, and everything was going pretty well for Krieger—until suddenly it was not. On October 11, a few days before what was expected to be Krieger’s final game in the NWSL, news broke that Harris had filed for divorce. Rumors started circulating that Harris had cheated. (In a November Instagram post, she denied ever “stepping out” on Krieger.)
If Gotham wanted to win on Krieger’s behalf at the start of this season, well…now it was personal.
Four days after everything came to light, Krieger played her “final” game. She made a particularly impressive sliding save, and the match ultimately went in Gotham’s favor—which meant their season wasn’t over quite yet. They were headed to the playoffs, seeded sixth out of six teams. The same day, basketball great Sue Bird (and partner of Megan Rapinoe) attended Game 3 of the WNBA finals in Brooklyn. When Bird appeared on the Jumbotron in an “Ali Krieger fan club” T-shirt, the crowd went wild.
Gotham—which was, I need to reiterate, literally the worst team in 2022—kept winning, and made it all the way to the league finals, where they’d play Seattle’s OL Reign. Two sports greats would be facing off against each other for the last time. (Yes, this was also Megan Rapinoe’s retirement game.) While both Rapinoe and Krieger are extremely decorated athletes, neither had ever won an NWSL championship—and now only one of them could. The stakes were high and the match was an emotional roller coaster: Rapinoe got injured a couple minutes in, a heartbreaking end to her incredible career. Later, with just minutes left on the clock, Gotham goalie Mandy Haught got a red card, so midfielder Nealy Martin had to step in and guard the net while OL Reign took a free kick that could have tied the score. Real “you can’t make this shit up” stuff.
In the end, Gotham won. Ali Krieger won. The crowd—and the group chats—went wild.
I meet up with Krieger just 10 days after her NWSL championship game, unsure of what her vibe will be. It’s been six weeks since the news broke, and even though I don’t know her, I’m a little worried about her. For a lot of people, the days immediately following a dramatic marital rupture are powered by pure adrenaline and a focus on logistics; you’re in survival mode, figuring out how to keep it together at work, take care of your kids, separate your finances, feed yourself, keep moving. But once you’ve gotten through those initial tasks, and have nothing left to do but sit alone with your grief, the crash can be brutal. While Krieger has been booked and busy since her win, I wonder if she’s about to hit that wall.
But at first glance on this blustery morning, Krieger seems…pretty okay, actually! She greets me with a warm hug, and is clear-eyed, perky, and confident in her Gucci combat boots as we sit down for breakfast at a cozy, quiet spot decked out with twinkle lights in midtown Manhattan. Of course, there’s no way to know by looking at a person if their heart is in a million pieces. So my first question is a simple one but maybe not an easy one: After an intense few months in which she’s only publicly said five words about her separation—“in my Beyoncé Lemonade era”—how is Ali Krieger doing?
“I’m actually in a healthy space,” she says. “I’m still processing everything in real time. Obviously, I met the most broken version of myself this year, but now—the strongest. I feel like I can get through anything, and I am so ready for this next phase. I feel like the universe has sent me a gift, and I’m ready to take it.”
By every available metric, Krieger, 39, is extremely good at soccer. She was awarded All-American twice while at Penn State and played professionally in Germany for three years before returning to the US to join the women’s national team and, later, the nascent NWSL. She’s won two World Cup titles. Midge Purce, one of Krieger’s teammates and best friends, recently told her “You just completed soccer,” a sentiment that really resonated with Krieger. The NWSL championship was the only major athletic accomplishment she didn’t have to her name…until now. “I sat with that a little bit, and I’m like, Wow, I can reflect and be super proud of myself,” she tells me.
Still, when I ask her what she sees as her biggest career accomplishments, Krieger mainly talks about things she’s done off the field. “I’m really proud of the lifelong friendships that I’ve built with my teammates,” she says. “You endure so much—mentally, physically, emotionally—and you can’t even put into words the amount of stress and anxiety that you have at that level, to be able to stay there consistently over the years.” It’s a ridiculous amount of pressure, and Krieger says that other athletes are the only ones who truly understand it, which is why they tend to form such deep and lasting bonds. “At different times you might be struggling or supporting or you’re the one thriving and maybe someone else [isn’t],” she says. “Building those friendships that go beyond the soccer field has been a dream come true. Now I get to share real-life memories with them, not just soccer.”
Krieger sees these relationships as part of something bigger—there’s a clear connection between her own self-care, her relationship with her community, and a larger sense of purpose and mission. Krieger has long been an advocate for social justice and equality; you can tell she feels the urge to stand up for what’s right deep in her bones, and is inspired and motivated by others who share her values. So yes, she’s proud of being a fantastic defender, but her great saves aren’t really the most important thing she’s contributed to her sport. Because ultimately, she says, soccer isn’t who she is—it’s just something she does.
“I want to be known more for supporting people, fighting for human rights, fighting for equality,” she says. “Because if I don’t, who will? That’s the mentality that I have. I think it’s important to amplify those issues, and make sure people understand where you stand.” She tries to focus on the issues she cares about—racial equity, LGBTQ rights, and women’s equality, for starters—and the areas in which she can have a meaningful impact, and hopes others will feel motivated to do the same, in whatever field they’re in. “If I can just do this little part, if I could just use my platform, my voice here, then maybe that’ll encourage other people,” she says, “and then you come together, and there’s more power in numbers.”
While a lot of people are aware of the US women’s national team’s very public gender discrimination lawsuit, they may not realize how much work Krieger and her fellow athletes have been doing behind the scenes within the NWSL for years—or that Krieger is 100% that outspoken coworker who is confident in their convictions, and who isn’t afraid to be a pain in the ass to management about working conditions, health and safety, diversity and inclusion, and compensation. “These younger players are now earning so much more than I did when I first started,” she says—and that is, in part, because of the work Krieger and her teammates have been doing. She recalls “constantly going to [her] club and saying, ‘This is unacceptable; you have to raise the standard or people will leave. People deserve more. We deserve more, as players. You have to figure out how we can change this—go talk to ownership.’ I know that the younger players can’t do that. [Ownership] will listen to me more, and I’m not afraid to lose my job, if I can put it bluntly.”
“I can go in there and be like, listen: ‘These accommodations aren’t good enough, the food isn’t good enough, the training is way too long….’ Just specific things that really matter,” she says. “I remember fighting for training socks at one point.” It’s these kinds of indignities, all of which come down to how much money the powers that be are willing to invest in women’s leagues, that make even the best female athletes feel small.
Like a lot of folks who are driven by a desire to serve others, Krieger has not always been good about asking for or accepting help when she needs it. But it’s something she’s been working on, and her divorce process has shown her what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the kind of love and support she’s given to others over the years. “Through these past five months, my friends have shown up in ways that I will cherish and remember forever. They are my true people,” she says. “It’s been so rewarding to see that, because you don’t know how much of an impact you have, even on your personal friends, and when they show up for you, you’re just like, Whoa—thank God.”
I ask her if there is anything that stands out when she thinks about how her community has been there for her recently. “My entire team came over for a dance party the night the news broke. And I will never forget that moment,” she says. “I found out at training. I was on the field. And I came off the field, in the locker room, and I was obviously devastated.” She canceled the press conference and fitting for her upcoming retirement game that were scheduled for later that day and just went home.
“Then my teammates just started walking through the door,” she says. “All of them. At different times. Until 2 in the morning, we were there, just hanging out, dancing, putting music on YouTube. We were sitting in the playroom, in my kitchen; we were dancing and hanging out, and they were all bringing wine and flowers, and just…themselves. They didn’t even think twice. They didn’t have to ask; they just showed up. They just kept coming in—from right after training, after their meetings, through 2 a.m. My kids were there, we all were there. And that’s something that I will never forget, and they will never understand how grateful and how…” She trails off for a second. “I’m so appreciative.”
It wasn’t just the other Gotham players who were there for her in the immediate aftermath of her divorce news; she also mentions her best friend, Liz Mumley, and her brother, Kyle, who is 13 months older than she is, and who she’s extremely close to. “Every day, he and Liz were checking in on me,” she says, adding that Liz came up from Virginia Beach right after the news broke and stayed with her for a week and a half.
These days, Krieger is taking care of herself by meditating regularly (she loves Gabby Bernstein’s app) and attending weekly therapy sessions, which she’s been doing for three years. “It’s been really healthy to talk about a lot of trauma that I experienced as a child, that I had carried through my life,” she says. “I was carrying that into relationships, even friendships. I’ve started to listen to my body a lot more, and how my body feels when I’m around certain people. I don’t think I paid attention before; I was operating in this phase of, Oh, this is normal, I’m just going to keep pushing, and not really recognizing that maybe this isn’t a safe space.” She says she’s gained new tools through therapy—along with articles and podcasts and advice from other professionals—that have been really beneficial for her. “I’m applying that day-to-day, and I’m in such a better space than I was before.”
Of course, processing a major loss (and all the stuff from your childhood it brings up) isn’t tidy, linear, or the sort of thing a person can breeze through simply by checking off all of the right boxes on a “good for your mental health” to-do list. Therapy, in particular, can be quite painful. “It’s hard to really confront things,” Krieger says. “You have to hold yourself accountable.” Doing so much work on herself has taught her a valuable lesson about who she wants in her life going forward: “People who are prioritizing their mental health, and prioritizing themselves in order to give their best self to me. Even if it’s on a friendship level.” It’s not that she won’t hang out with anyone who isn’t in therapy—just that she ultimately wants to surround herself with folks who are self-aware and similarly invested in their own growth. She’s showing up for herself, in part, so that she can better show up for others, and she knows she deserves the same in return.
You can see how unmoored a person might feel in a moment like the one Krieger is in, when nothing is what it used to be. Soccer—which was Krieger’s job, her community, her home for her entire adult life—is over. Her relationship—which lasted 13 years and is inextricably tied to her experience of soccer and motherhood—is over. But Krieger is clearly excited for what’s next, even if she’s not entirely sure what it will look like.
Krieger’s first order of business in retirement is spending more time with Sloane and Ocean. “I never thought I would ever have to be in this position,” she says, referring to her ongoing divorce. “But I’m focusing on me and the kids now, and just moving forward—how can I continue to set them up for success and make sure they are in a space where they’re continuing to grow and process everything as well?” She’s eager to take them places—nothing too fancy, just more walks around the neighborhood, trips to the zoo, the beach, to visit her family—“so they can see a little bit more than just the soccer field and daycare.” Still, Krieger tries to be gentle with herself when the mom guilt creeps in. “I just have to throw that out the window,” she says. “My internal dialogue is ‘I’m a great mom. I’m doing the best I can while balancing the kids and my career, trying to give myself grace.’ I try to say that every day, no matter how I feel. Because it’s true: We’re all just trying to do our best.”
She’s also excited for a daily existence that’s considerably less structured than it has been for the past two decades—though she knows that idleness can breed discontent for some newly retired athletes. “When you come to the end, a lot of us struggle. Because you are like, What’s my purpose now? What’s my schedule?” she says. “I’m used to somebody telling me where to go, what to do, what to eat, what to wear…everything’s laid out for you, and you just show up.” She plans to create a new routine for herself soon, and is eager to be the one in charge of her calendar—and to make space for spontaneity. “I don’t have to prep four or five days in advance for my game,” she says. “If my best friend calls me up and says, ‘Hey, why don’t you come down?’ it’s like, Oh, yeah, I can do that now.”
Even though she’s technically retired, Krieger will keep working beyond her duties as a mom, and is optimistic about all of the opportunities coming her way. She has been open about her desire to go into broadcasting and, after we spoke, officially joined CBS Sports as a studio analyst. She’s also said that she’d eventually like to have a Michael Strahan–like second act, so morning TV might be in her future. And she’d like to write a book about her life (”maybe a tell-all”) at some point.
I ask her what she hopes her life will look like in five years, and she smiles at the thought. “My kids are happy and healthy and thriving, most importantly,” she says. “I am so in love and in a new relationship, and I’m just traveling the world, loving my job, and the people I work with, and making time for my friends and family, to create new memories. And fully healed from this past year in some way, shape, or form.”
But Krieger’s not there quite yet, and her biggest goal for 2024 is to work on herself and get through the messy aftermath that follows the dissolution of a marriage. “I’m in this transitioning phase, so I’m unarmoring myself,” she says. “I have been bare, basically, for the past five months. Walking through it—not around it, over it, under it—literally walking through, feeling all the things, and learning and gaining those tools to be the woman that I’ve always known was there. It’s a transitional moment for me now, where it feels a little awkward that I’m not quite there yet, but I can see her.”
“Everything, I think, happens for a reason, and you don’t always have to understand it at the time,” she continues. “But how I react is definitely going to propel me to the future. I know that I need to go through all the shit in order to get there. That’s what I’m in now, and I’m just rolling my sleeves up.”
“When I’m ready and open for the next relationship, or the next person to come into my life, I want to feel like I’m giving my full self,” she says. “I know that I’m not there yet. And so I think 2024 is going to be just me continuing to put myself first, and work on myself so that I am a complete Ali—so that I don’t carry all of this past trauma into that next relationship. I’m so ready for the new year, and just propelling myself forward into that. And then I’ll be open, really fully open, to what’s next.”
Photography: Vanessa Granda. Creative direction: Amber Venerable. Wardrobe styling: Roberto Johnson. Hair: Hiro + Mari. Makeup: Alexandra Gilleo. Set designer: Jenna Tedesco. Production: Melissa Kramer. Editor-in-chief: Rachel Wilkerson Miller. Profile editor: Alisa Hrustic.