Ali Krieger and U.S. women's soccer play Guatamala at 9 ET Friday in Bridgeview, Illinois, in CONCACAF qualifying.
One of the greatest compliments I have ever received was one paid to the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT). German national team player Kim Kulig said, “You guys always find a way to win - it’s a mentality. Your resilience is incredible.”
There is something quintessentially American about the USWNT. Last-minute, dramatic finishes and technical finesse aside, the spirit of the program reflects a determination and perseverance that resonates with the deeply held belief that with hard work, anything is possible.
A relentlessly exhilarating test of resolve and resilience, soccer has distinctively shaped my journey, taking me on a pathway through moments of incredible accomplishment, to disappointment, and back again. From the evolution of women’s professional soccer in the United States and the teams that comprise it, to the USWNT and the players who proudly represent America’s determination to succeed at the highest levels of the sport, U.S. women’s soccer will continue to thrive and inspire, because the narrative of the league, team, and players resonates with who we are as Americans.
Although many recognize the 1999 Women’s World Cup as a catalyst for women’s soccer in the United States, the professional game has ebbed and flowed in the decade-plus since. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was launched in 2012, succeeding the WUSA and WPS, which struggled and ultimately failed to achieve sustainability. In 2013, I returned to the U.S. after 5½ years playing in Germany, and was challenged by my experience in the inaugural season of the NWSL as both a player and a leader. Playing for the Washington Spirit, the 2013 season was one of the most difficult I have ever experienced. We finished at the bottom of the league, and at times it was incredibly trying to rise above the negativity associated with winning only three out of our 22 games. But despite the many defeats, the team vowed to get better, and I was up for the challenge.
Courtesy of Ashley J. Palmer
U.S. national team defender Ali Krieger started all six games and played every minute in the 2011 World Cup in Germany.
After spending the offseason training in Sweden, I returned to the United States in 2014 for the second NWSL season, which saw the league expand to include a new team as well as an increase in the number of internationals playing from Japan, Germany, Spain, England and Denmark. The second season for the Washington Spirit was a complete turnaround from our inaugural struggle. Even with changes and players coming in throughout the season, our team came and stayed together, espousing a distinctly American sense of grit during all of our practices and games.
The dedication paid off. We made the playoffs, and proved that we can compete with the best in the league. And we’re not even close to done. With enough hard work, the Washington Spirit players believe that we can achieve our goal of being the best team in one of the best leagues in the world.
Back in 2011, I had one of the most memorable experiences of my career, playing in the Women's World Cup. After celebrating our dramatic win against Brazil in the quarterfinals and then beating France in the semis, we lost a week later to Japan in penalty kicks. To this day, we remember the feeling of walking off the pitch without the World Cup trophy. This feeling has fueled us every day to prove that we belong on top, as the No. 1 team in the world. Our daily work ethic - that need to always do better and top our last performance - is what makes USWNT football players who we are.
With the 2015 World Cup on the horizon, I guess you could say that it’s our American Dream. Defined by our leadership, creativity, and inextinguishable work ethic, we are a team that’s ready to win. At the same time, the USWNT is more than the diverse talent of the players on and off the pitch. We recognize that our success will be the culmination of a journey that unfolds one training session and one game at a time.
On Monday, we will take the field for our qualifying match against Haiti at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Having missed the 2013 USWNT match in D.C. due to my commitment to play abroad in Sweden, I can’t wait to conclude 2015 World Cup qualifying group play here at home - not far from where I grew up and came of age as a young player in Dumfries, Virginia, and close to where I now play for the Washington Spirit.
Although at times soccer is a challenge to mind, body and spirit, fundamentally, the progression of the U.S. women’s game and those who play it reflects a distinctively American culture, rooted in our struggle, shared aspiration, hard work and self-determination. We are resilient, focused, determined, committed - and we will find a way to win.