Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Krieger Does the Treble

Krieger (back row, far left) and her Frankfurt teammates before the second leg of the UEFA Women's Cup Final.

She's only got two caps for the USA, but Ali Krieger has something no other U.S. Women's National Team player has: a treble of championships in Europe.

In the fall of 2007, there was no pro league in the United States. Krieger was finished with college, but still had aspirations to play at the highest levels.

She’d represented the USA on the U-21 level, but had thus far failed to break into the senior side. When the opportunity came about to play in Germany for one of the world’s top clubs, she packed her bags and headed over the pond for a grand adventure that would include a new country, a new language, new teammates and, yes, new opportunity. That journey would lead her to three championships – including the European title -- and to the brink of the U.S. Olympic Team.

Krieger went to Germany in September of 2007, right before FIFA Women's World Cup. Many of her teammates on Frankfurt were on the German National Team and were there for just a week before heading off to China. Slowly, she started to acclimate, but of course it wasn’t easy for a soft-spoken girl from Dumfries, Va.

“I had to adapt and learn the language and culture on my own,” said Krieger, whose great, great grandfather emigrated to the USA from Berlin. “I was thrown into a situation where I had to stay above the water or I would have drowned and come home. Sometimes, that’s the best way to do it. I've become very independent.”

Krieger quickly earned a starting spot in the midfield and after her Women’s World Cup champion teammates returned, the squad started to gel.

Krieger celebrates a goal with Conny Pohlers.

First, they won the German Cup, downing Saarbrucken, 5-1. Frankfurt was down 1-0 at half and then stormed back to score five second goals. Then, they won the UEFA Women’s Championship with a two-leg victory over Swedish power Umea, which featured Brazilian dribbling wizard Marta. Finally, the league title was locked up and the space in the Frankfurt trophy case suddenly became much tighter.

While Krieger cherishes the success on the field, it’s her experience off that field that has had the most impact on her young life.

"Being in Germany not only changed me as a player, but also as a person,” said the 23-year-old. “Being immersed in a different culture has given me a different perspective. I've met so many interesting people in Germany from all over the world. It’s just really made me excited to experience new things. Playing the sport that's number one in the country, you are just treated really well and everyone just has such a passion for the game.”

Krieger’s German has gotten to the point where she can get by with all the daily tasks. Some of her teammates choose not to speak English, so she has to try. “It's cool, it makes me learn it,” said Krieger “They help me a lot with my German. At first, they taught me bad words and I would say them and they all would laugh, but now I understand so they’re not able to pull that one on me.”

She has taken German classes and even did an interview in German after the European title, much to the amusement of the reporter and herself.

In the midfield for Frankfurt against Crailsheim.

However, playing in Germany created a Catch-22 of sorts for Krieger. Because of her club commitments, she couldn’t come into enough training camps for the U.S. team to legitimately compete for a spot on the Olympic roster. But if it weren’t for her experience playing for Frankfurt, she feels she wouldn’t have been prepared for that challenge anyway.

"It’s a tough situation, and being in Europe, you get a different feel for the difficulties of club vs. country,” she said. “But I'm so thankful for my club team and for what they've done for me. I love playing there and I don't regret going one bit. If I never went to Germany I don't think I'd be sitting here and on the roster of 22. I've grown so much as a player.”

The final whistle blows and Frankfurt are European champions.

On June 23, Krieger was named as an alternate to the U.S. Olympic Team, but is in Norway to train with the team for a week. After that, it’s up to her to stay fit and ready if needed.

"It was unbelievable to win three titles,” said Krieger, who shares the treble honors with fellow American Gina Lewandowski, who played center back for Frankfurt. “It was such a cool experience, one that I don't think I will ever forget. It’s something that can't be replicated in America, which is part of the reason that it is unique. To be a European champion as an American and being a part of the Frankfurt team that won the treble for the first time in history was even more rewarding. You work so hard during the year and some people don't get as fortunate to win one trophy, never mind three. So playing my first year over there and winning three medals was pretty exciting."

Ali with the UEFA Women's Cup trophy.

Her contract runs until June of 2009, so she is not sure of her status for the start of the WPS. For the immediate future, she is happy to stay in Europe and live that lifestyle. She has the possibility of extending her contract with Frankfurt for another year, but for now, Krieger is simply soaking up a once in a lifetime experience.

“I am going to look back one day and be so thankful and honored that I was able to play for Frankfurt,” she said. “I’m just glad I could play a part in bringing joy to the club and the fans because everyone there has been so great to me and I see how much this means to them.”

And that’s Wunderbar for Krieger.

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