Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris are role models on and off the soccer field

 Ashlyn Harris, left, and Ali Krieger chat during a visit to the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. The couple is planning a December wedding.

 It wasn’t that Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris were unhappy, exactly, at the World Cup four years ago.

But imagine being at the pinnacle of your career, with so many eyes and expectations on you, and you’re only living half a truth. Oh, their U.S. teammates knew they were a couple, had known for years, and they’d long since proven that their relationship off the field wouldn’t be a detriment to them or anyone else on the field.

The public, though? Their sponsors? Even U.S. Soccer officials? You have to remember that, even though it was only four years ago, it was a very different time.

It had only been a year since Jason Collins came out, the first active player in any of the four major men’s U.S. professional leagues to say publicly that he was gay. While there were some out lesbian athletes – Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach on that 2015 team – most were more vague, not hiding their sexuality but not talking openly about it, either.

“We weren’t sure if this was going to affect our jobs or sponsorships,” Krieger told USA TODAY Sports last month. “Sharing a partnership with Ash (in 2015) but not really being open about it was difficult. Now this (World Cup) seems like it’s more rewarding than the previous two just because we are ourselves. It’s not really a topic. It’s kind of just normal.”

The Supreme Court legalized gay marriage four years ago Wednesday, and Harris and Krieger symbolize the sea change it created in this country. The first out couple to play together on a senior U.S. Soccer team – possibly the first on any U.S. national team – they announced their engagement in March with a big splash in People magazine.

Rather than recriminations, they’ve gotten congratulations. The questions they’re asked about their December wedding are the same as brides have been getting for decades: How’s the planning coming? Big wedding or small? Who’s invited?

“It feels so good and it feels so light,” Harris said. “For so long, we felt this burden and it was so heavy because we couldn’t tell people. Now that it’s out there and it’s open, we can just genuinely be ourselves and be the best versions of ourselves for our teammates and for our families and for each other.

“We’re just so happy,” she added. “So happy and we’re in such a good place.”

Anyone who has worked with a spouse or significant other knows how difficult it can be. There’s no way to turn work off completely, and conflicts at the office can spill over into your personal space whether you want them to or not.   

Harris and Krieger, who are also teammates with the Orlando Pride, said they’ve been able to make it work because they set boundaries from the very beginning. There’s no soccer talk at home. When they’re on national team trips, they’re teammates first, having separate rooms and making sure not to isolate themselves.

In France, their Instagram stories are filled with photos promoting their games or goofing around with teammates, often Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, who also plays in Orlando.

“When we’re at work, we’re there to work. I’m her teammate … I’m not here to be your partner,” Harris said. “We’re very much so about the team. We put the team first. And then when we’re at home, the relationship comes first."

That balance was tested in the past two years, as Krieger was repeatedly left off the national team. A starter on the back line of the 2015 World Cup champions, she never really got an explanation – nor any indication that the exile was going to be temporary.

But Krieger couldn’t take weeks or months to wallow or sulk, like most people would. Harris, a goalkeeper, was still very much a part of the national team, with a goal of making this World Cup squad.

So Krieger would take the phone calls when Harris was at training camp, listening to how things were going and offering support. In the Pride’s off-season, she’d go with Harris every morning to train.  

“It was really hard because I was still involved with her process and the team, even though I wasn’t physically there. That was mentally draining at times because I didn’t really get to move on, I didn’t really get to move past what I was dealing with,” Krieger said. “I kind of had to just soak in it.”

Added Harris, “She had no light at the end of the tunnel because nothing was guaranteed for her. … I saw her strength and I saw her resiliency, and I saw how hard it was for her. But she stayed ready.”

In March, about a week after announcing their engagement, Krieger heard from U.S. coach Jill Ellis: She wanted the veteran back. After not playing for the U.S. since April 2017, Krieger started an exhibition against Belgium in early April and played all 90 minutes.

When Ellis announced her World Cup roster in May, Krieger’s name was on it. So was Harris’. The news delighted fans almost as much as that of Krieger and Harris’ engagement.

Out of the hundreds of messages they got from people around the world, Krieger said she only recalls seeing one negative Tweet.

“The world is changing. We’re living in a healthier space,” Krieger said. “Nowadays it doesn’t really matter who you love, as long as you’re happy.”

And that's really the point, right? Officially, the Supreme Court decision four years ago gave gays and lesbians the right to marry. In simpler, more profound terms, it gave them the right to be happy.  


Tags: women's football

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