Nearly two years ago, I mused on how Ali Krieger seemed perpetually stuck at 98 caps, just two shy of that symbolic century. I thought it was frustrating then, even though Krieger finally, finally made it over that 100 line with her substitution for the United States in their 5-0 win over New Zealand. And I was happy to see Krieger so happy, along with her teammates, who were clearly pleased to have her back. But what really struck me was the way she spoke about it in the press scrum afterwards.
100 International Games. I can’t completely put into words what this career milestone means to me, but I will do my best to express some of my feelings and a small piece of me. I feel very grateful to be here and wanted to stop and reflect on the moment.https://t.co/gzc96zxWSM pic.twitter.com/TZ8WIVjWVa— Ali Krieger (@alikrieger) May 17, 2019
Krieger seemed quietly delighted - as would anyone - but with the added context of her years-long enforced absence from the USWNT. Not in a schadenfreude sort of way, although who could blame her if she did, but with calm confidence and pride in herself. I’m not certain that, in the same situation, I could be so mature. Surely anyone would grow bitter after literal years of having their career halted so abruptly. Perhaps she is, but in private. In public, she was lowkey and diplomatic in her answers, although several times she couldn’t keep the emotion out of her voice.
“I always thought the door’s still a little cracked, I can’t lose hope with that. I know how good I am and I know my value,” she said, pointing to her continued play with the Orlando Pride and hiring a personal coach in the offseason to work on her skills, in lieu of going overseas in order to stay close to her family. “I didn’t want to come back just to get a hundred caps. Numbers don’t really mean lot to me. It’s the championships you win, the games you enjoy, and the people who you surround yourself with at the highest level to make you better.”
Krieger is right that 100 is an arbitrary number that, on its own, doesn’t matter. But it’s a symbol, and an uplifting one at that. And there was the two-year wait - how do you keep believing in opportunity when every sign is arranged against you? Well, maybe not every sign. Krieger maybe looked at the fullback pool, did the math in her head, and saw she had a nonzero chance. But still.
It got me thinking. There are so many things I give up on when they reach some invisible threshold of too hard. That book I started to plot out but tossed like a month into research. That 10k I started training for but let fall by the wayside after a couple of missed workouts. That big article I meant to pitch but just...didn’t. What opportunities have I missed because I wasn’t ready? Because I was scared of change? Because giving up was easier and quite frankly, in the words of Ali Wong, I don’t want to lean in; I want to lie down?
Maybe it’s just the occasion of a 100 caps turning me maudlin. After all, as much as I like Krieger, her very presence is a sign of the USWNT’s mismanaged fullback situation.
But in following this sport and writing about these players, there has to be room for joy among the many, many justified criticisms. Otherwise you’re just an old man yelling at a cloud. Congratulations to Ali Krieger, at long last, on 100 caps, and on going to a World Cup when most people would have bet on big odds against her. As for me, if Krieger can still make a World Cup roster, I guess I can finish my to-do list for the day. Maybe I’ll even take a look at that book.
Side note: we’re now in a partnership with BreakingT, who are officially licensed by the USWNT Players Association, so every purchase you make supports the players themselves. They’ve got a collection of shirts ready for the Women’s World Cup, so follow the link to purchase.