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Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris set boundaries to succeed as World Cup teammates, engaged couple

Ashlyn Harris, right, embraces Ali Krieger after her long awaited return to the U.S. women’s national team. Krieger played for the U.S. during a 5-0 win over New Zealand at Busch Stadium on May 16 before she was officially named to the Americans’ World Cup roster.( Brad Smith/ISI Photos)

NEW YORK — A quick internet search for “setting boundaries” returns more than 350 million pages of results. There’s boundaries in relationships, at work and in everyday life, examples of healthy boundaries and tips on how to create boundaries. There’s even an Oprah three-step guide on how to begin setting personal boundaries. 

Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris don’t need any of that.

They’ve mastered their own system over years of balancing a relationship at home and at work, playing soccer for the United States women’s national team and the Orlando Pride in the National Women’s Soccer League. And it will continue this month when the recently-engaged couple heads to France to represent team USA in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup that begins June 7.

“What has made us so successful in the work space together for so long is our boundaries,” said Harris, one of three goalkeepers on the World Cup roster. “We’ve done it long enough to know what works and what doesn’t work.

“When we’re at work, we’re there to work. I’m her teammate. So if she wants to come to me for something, I’m gonna give her the real answer, the accountability answer. And then when we’re at home, that’s our time to be at home, and then soccer doesn’t walk through the front door.”

At all. The couple sets aggressive goals for not talking about soccer at home, they said. But there is a 20-minute window during the drive home from training when they can discuss what’s happening on the field. As soon as they pull into the driveway, that’s it. 

They also try not to share rooms on road trips or isolate themselves for the group, according to Harris.

“Soccer is my job, it’s not my life. She is what makes me happy. She is my life. So, soccer doesn’t bleed into that. I make sure of it.”

 

Harris, 33, and Krieger, 34, spoke openly and easily about their lives during a World Cup media day in New York at the end of May. Krieger, a somewhat unexpected last-minute addition to the roster, is participating in her third World Cup. Harris is going to her second. They are both World Cup champions, having been on the winning 2015 roster.

Before they walked into the room in New York, reporters whispered between each other, “I think they’re the first engaged couple to ever play on the same U.S. team. Does anyone know? Can you think of any others?”

They couldn’t.

Both players talked about the team, the tournament and expectations. But it didn’t take long for questions about their personal lives to start flowing. It was one of the first interviews with national media they’d given since announcing their engagement in People magazine March 13.

Happiness is easy to spot in Krieger. Her typical slight smirk and focused, downward glance while answering tactical questions or recounting her struggles the last two years turns instantly upward, replaced by a shining grin and cheekbones that can’t possible be pushed any higher, when asked about Harris.

For so long, they were quiet. Never hiding, but not shouting love from the rooftops, either. 

“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. “And I think it’s really good for us to share this, because I’m pretty sure this is our last big tournament together.

“I think it’s important for me to go into a tournament kind of with a weight lifted off my shoulders and to be a healthy, happy me. And in order to compete at the highest level and win, that the most important thing. I really need to feel myself authentically in order to do that. Ya know, I didn’t before, and we won and it was fine. But this is kind of a different experience, and it’s probably going to be more enjoyable this way.”

Harris used some of the same or similar descriptors to illustrate her feelings: Light. Genuine. Authentic. Happy.

Ali Krieger, left, takes a picture of Ashlyn Harris and an alpaca during the U.S. women’s national team visit to Yew Tree Alpacas in Anstey, England, on May 29. The soccer players visited the farm during an afternoon off from training for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos)

This self-actualization they seem to have reached comes after what both described as the two hardest years of their lives. 

Krieger was out of regular national team consideration. Harris knew she’d be going to another World Cup. Emotionally, Krieger was confused, upset and frustrated at times, but she continued to train with Harris as if she still had a spot on the roster.

“I know a lot of people didn’t get to see how hard it was for her, you can only imagine, right?” Harris said. “When she was left off roster after roster after roster, she still woke up every single morning at 8 a.m. with me to grind and push herself, and she had no light at the end of the tunnel because nothing was guaranteed for her. I knew I was building for a World Cup. She was building for a hopeful opportunity and to stay ready.

“That was a proud moment for me, because I saw her strength and I saw her resiliency. I saw how hard it was for her, but she stayed ready because she knew that there would be a phone call — and if there wasn’t, she was willing to take that risk.”

Krieger said sometimes she felt bad because she was so emotional, angry and “maybe tough at times to be around,” but that Harris helped her out of that hole and to where she is today.

Ashlyn Harris, left, and Ali Krieger visited the White House in October 2015 after helping the U.S. win the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. (Brad Smith/ISI Photo)

In addition to Harris and various athletic trainers, Krieger had an arsenal of support in Orlando, a tight-knit group of people who continued to train with her. There were fellow Pride teammates Toni Pressley, Sydney Leroux — who trained while pregnant — Shelina Zadorsky and six-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta, who will represent Brazil at the World Cup. Chief among her supporters was former Orlando City defender Seb Hines. 

“He woke up every day and met me at the field, the Orlando pride facility, and we trained,” Krieger said of Hines. “I really respect him a lot, especially as a defender himself. . . . Obviously I put the work in, but he really helped me and supported me and guided me through that, and put me through some training sessions that were key to getting me back.”

Orlando Pride coach Marc Skinner never doubted Krieger’s abilities. He valued her leadership, demeanor and physicality.

“She could run forever” Skinner said. “Even at this stage in her career, she could still the best right back in the world, or right-side back in this country. . . . I think that she can really help America to be successful at this World Cup because I think she’s got the ability. Not only that, but with her style of leadership and caring and in the camp – that was such a massive move by Jill.”

Krieger almost fainted when she received a text message from U.S. coach Jill Ellis in between Orlando Pride training sessions about two months ago. She had accepted her international career was likely over at 98 caps and began focusing on other things — planning her December wedding, club soccer and toying with the idea of getting into broadcasting because “ya know, I don’t get to talk soccer at home.”

Saturday August 12, 2017: Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris before a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) match between the Orlando Pride and Sky Blue FC at Orlando City Stadium. (Jeremy Reper-ISI Photos)

She immediately showed the text message to Harris and teammate Alex Morgan, who Krieger said already had an inclination she’d be called up. During the ensuing phone call, Ellis said she wanted Krieger back, and not just as a training player, as a potential World Cup roster player. Ellis needed Krieger’s experience and professionalism on the quest for another world title. 

“I said, ‘I’m willing and ready to do whatever you need me to do.’ I said, ya know, ‘Look, I’m living in a new space now, emotionally, mentally, physically. I don’t want to talk about the past, really. I want to keep moving forward. So, yeah, let’s go win this thing,'” Krieger said. “I think she was really relieved, because I don’t know what she thought I would say. I think she was happy with our conversation and that made me really happy. So I think we’re kind of on a new slate.”

And so her world was “turned upside down,” she said,  and after two of the hardest years of her life, 2019 is turning out to be one of the best. Krieger got caps No. 99  and 100 during pre-World Cup friendlies. And by the end of the year, she’ll have a third World Cup appearance — possibly a second title — and be married.

But for now, Krieger and Harris are focused on the June 11 opening U.S. match against Thailand in Reims. They packed up and left their home in Orlando for up to seven weeks in France — not a big deal for players who refer to themselves as a traveling circus and have been on the move for soccer since they were teenagers. Plus, Harris’ best friend will house sit and take care of their dog, Logan, while they’re away.

This World Cup does feels a little different than the others, though, because it’s probably their last.

Harris reminisced about her career and all the loss, grief and success she’s shared with her teammates over the years. She said “it’s heavy,” and she couldn’t imagine going to battle with anyone other than the “pioneers and badass women” who represent the U.S.

And she gets to experience it all with Krieger.

“This is such a cool journey, and we’re really taking it in, to be able to say, ‘We’re doing this together and we’re planning the future of our life,'” Harris said. “This year has been unreal and incredible. “

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