Orlando Pride stars Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger said they struggled to play for a homophobic Washington Spirit owner earlier in their careers, according to Power Plays, a newsletter written by journalist Lindsay Gibbs.
Since the players were acquired by the Orlando Pride, fans speculated the players’ previously undisclosed sexuality caused their departure from the Spirit. In an interview with Gibbs, Harris and Krieger confirmed the homophobic actions of former owner Bill Lynch were the reason they left for a different club.
Lynch refused to allow the Spirit to host a Pride Night throughout his tenure, the only team to not do so in 2015, a decision Krieger described as “shameful.”
“I just didn’t feel like I was playing for a club that really respected me and supported me and my lifestyle,” Krieger told Power Plays. “How can I give my best to a club like that? That was so hard to deal with.”
“I was out of there,” Harris added.
Harris was selected by the Orlando Pride in the 2015 Expansion Draft and Krieger was traded to the team a year later in November 2016.
United States women’s national team star Megan Rapinoe openly called Lynch homophobic in 2016, when the former owner played the national anthem while the teams were in the locker room to prevent Rapinoe from taking a knee in protest.
Since moving to Orlando, the couple has experienced a much different environment with the Pride. Besides the obvious nod of its name, Orlando hosts a Pride night annually and rainbow flags dot the supporters section at each game.
Following the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in downtown Orlando, Orlando City SC dedicated a section of its stadium to the 49 victims of the attack, painting seven rows of seats in the colors of the rainbow.
With the Pride, Harris and Krieger have been able to grow comfortable. They publicly announced their engagement in March, two months before Krieger was called up to the national team for the first time in years.
“It’s really nice to share these moments with her, to make these memories with her and really have someone in your corner that understands the process,” Krieger said in an interview with Pro Soccer USA before the World Cup. “And I think it’s really good for us to share this, because I’m pretty sure this is our last big tournament together.
This has been a year of celebration for the couple, highlighted by their engagement and the World Cup victory. It’s also been a year of adjusting to the spotlight that comes with being the visibility of their position.
The past week has been filled with public moments that reflect the huge shift in their lives this year. Harris and Krieger were asked to present Rapinoe’s Glamour Woman of the Year award together and they walked on stage hand-in-hand.
In their interview with Power Plays, Harris and Krieger described the back-and-forth struggle of deciding when and how to come out publicly. Both feared that they could lose sponsorships or jobs by coming out, but that fear was balanced with the opportunity to inspire young and old fans alike.
Ultimately, the couple’s decision came down to choosing the best version of life for themselves.
“It was time,” Harris said to Power Plays. “It’s a real thing, you know, and it was difficult to come to the decision, but we’re at a point in our lives where we’re like, you know what? We’re willing to risk it all to really just authentically be ourselves.”
To read more about Harris and Krieger, including details about their time at the Spirit and their reaction to Rapinoe’s anthem protest, visit the Power Plays newsletter.