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'I knew the door was somewhat cracked' - Krieger embraces unlikely second chance with USWNT

04:14 SAST 2019/04/04
Ali Krieger USWNT
The veteran right back could see her first minutes in two years with the national team on Thursday against Australia

Jill Ellis phased out plenty of veterans in the period following the USWNT's failure at the 2016 Olympics, and Ali Krieger appeared to be one of them. 

Krieger was an ever-present on the victorious 2015 World Cup team, starting every game of the tournament at right back and playing all but nine minutes of the USWNT’s seven matches. 

But Krieger saw her most recent minutes with the team in April 2017, with her last call-up coming in the summer of 2017. The end of the line had seemingly arrived. 

There was, however, to be one more twist in the tale for Krieger, now 34. The defender was a surprise inclusion on the USWNT roster for the team's April friendlies against Australia and Belgium.

Even with regular right back Kelley O’Hara out with an injury, Krieger's inclusion was a head-turning move.  

Ellis has turned to other options ahead of Krieger when O’Hara has been unavailable due to injury in recent months. But with the World Cup just two months away, it appears the manager is giving Krieger a serious shot at becoming a last-minute addition to the team’s squad heading to France

“Ali has never been off the radar,” Ellis told a press conference ahead of Thursday's game against Australia. “I would say that players who have played at that level are never off the radar. 

“When you get close to a World Cup and seeing Ali training at outside back, I know she’s fit. With Kelley not being here, sometimes the experience piece is something you have to take into consideration going into a massive event like this.” 

With the World Cup growing ever closer, O’Hara’s injury status is becoming more of a concern. O'Hara underwent ankle surgery back in October, did not play for the U.S. again until February, and has now been forced out of both April friendlies due to complications from that operation. 

Ellis remained optimistic that O’Hara would be heading to France, while also revealing the 30-year-old is currently with the team despite not being able to play. 

“I haven’t blinked in terms of Kelley not being an option to take to the World Cup,” Ellis said. 

“The surgery she had was pretty significant in terms of cleaning up an ankle, so I think what we’re seeing right now is just a continued recovery from that, but I saw her flying around the field in terms of running. 

“I think she’s on the mend and we’re optimistic, our medical team is very optimistic – knock on wood.” 

In her stead, though, comes Krieger, who is grateful for her second chance. 

“Honestly, it’s a dream to be back,” the 34-year-old told Goal. “Everyone has just welcomed me back with open arms, it’s like I never left really.” 

Krieger has remained an ever-present with the Orlando Pride during her time away from the national team, maintaining her form and fitness while her chance of a USWNT re-call looked increasingly remote. 

“I think she’s been good enough to be here all along but that’s not my choice,” U.S. attacker Megan Rapinoe said. 

“I just admire her so much. I think it’s very difficult to keep yourself in the kind of condition, not only mentally but just playing-wise and physically.” 

Krieger’s club teammate concurred with Rapinoe’s sentiment. 

“I’m so happy for her, I know that she’s worked incredibly hard,” forward Alex Morgan added. 

“Just playing with her day in and day out, she is like the heart and soul of Orlando.” 

It’s that experience and leadership that saw Krieger called in ahead of other options and could lead to an unlikely role with the team moving forward. 

“I’m going to do my part and lead by example and help some of the younger girls who might not have been at this level,” Krieger told Goal

“Especially leading into a World Cup, I think it’s important that a lot of our younger players understand how important it is to just be ready.” 

Though many wrote off Krieger’s chances of ever suiting up for the national team again, the defender never fully gave up hope. That faith has now been vindicated. 

“I knew that the door was somewhat cracked over the years, just waiting for a second chance,” Krieger continued. 

“I knew that as long as I could get a toe in the door then I’d really take my opportunity and run with it. I just needed that one phone call and that opportunity to be back, so this is it.”