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Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger are ready for their encore

Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris are divorcing after four years of marriage. (Jesse Louie/Just Women’s Sports)

Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris are still up for a challenge, even after eight years in the NWSL and two FIFA World Cup titles.

Harris and Krieger’s shared drive has led the couple on their latest adventure, up the coast to NJ/NY Gotham FC for the 2022 season. After playing with the Orlando Pride since 2016, the two were traded to Gotham in early December.

Both Harris, 36, and Krieger, 37, acknowledge how hard it was to leave Orlando after building roots there for six years, but they’re energized by the prospect of a fresh start with Gotham FC.

“I feel like we are going to get a certain excitement that I don’t think we’ve had for a while playing,” Krieger tells Just Women’s Sports.

The Pride finished eighth in the NWSL standings last season, above only expansion clubs Racing Louisville and Kansas City in points with a 7-7-10 record. The team also weathered a mid-season coaching shakeup after Marc Skinner left Orlando to coach Manchester United and was replaced by Becky Burleigh, who departed at the end of the season.

After four losing seasons and just one trip to the NWSL playoffs during their Pride tenure, Harris says she and Krieger needed to make a tough decision for their mental health and happiness.

“I don’t think it was easy to walk away from Orlando, but if you’re not enjoying what you do, you have to make a change even if it’s a little bit hard and drastic,” Harris says. “We were just becoming too resentful, and I think that’s when you know we made the right decision.”

Off the pitch, Krieger and Harris weren’t content to compromise either, looking for a more favorable environment in which to raise their daughter, Sloane.

“I’d be lying if I said if Ali and I don’t think big picture with Sloane,” Harris says. “It’s really hard living in Florida as a gay couple with a Black child who has a really difficult governor (Governor Ron DeSantis) who isn’t progressive and isn’t accepting of our community and every day it’s something new and something harmful.”

Striving to put their child in the “best possible position,” Harris says that New York and New Jersey’s reputation as a “progressive place to live” factored into their move to Gotham.

(Jesse Louie/Just Women's Sports)

This isn’t Harris or Krieger’s first trade, and both have seen how teams can wield their power over players during their professional soccer careers. Harris recalls teams making her empty promises to stick around and hearing their dead-end assurances about investing in the women’s game.

This time, Harris and Krieger feel that things different. Gotham’s owners invited the players to dinner after the trade, and Harris and Krieger both left the meeting optimistic about the club’s future.

“They are in the process of building something special, and in doing so, it’s funding, investment, it’s making your players feel wanted, needed, special, all the things that they deserve,” Harris says.

Krieger adds that they both “felt super supported and valued and appreciated right from the get-go.”

Harris, now a seasoned veteran,  says she needs to see “actionable steps” from a team, which means hiring the best of the best. To her, head coach Scott Parkinson, assistant coach Beverly “Bev” Goebel Yanez and general manager Yael Averbuch West fit the bill.

Gotham overhauled their front office and coaching staff last season. After GM Alyse LaHue was fired in July, Averbuch West filled the interim role and was permanently installed as GM in December. Parkinson, a former assistant with the Chicago Red Stars, was named head coach halfway through the 2021 season after Freya Coombe left to take the helm at Angel City FC.

“They get where they are at, but they also get where they need to be, and we are just trying to play a small role in that,” Harris says.

Krieger and Harris are joining a stacked roster that includes MVP nominee Midge Purce, Defender of the Year Caprice Dydasco, second-leading goal scorer Ifeoma Onumonu, among other stars. After Gotham also added U.S. women’s national team midfielder Kristie Mewis in a trade following the expansion draft last week, it would appear the club is in “win-now” mode.

Krieger and Harris are not backing down from the pressure.

“We’re not showing up anywhere to just be average. We want to win games,” says Harris, adding that she is careful not to fixate on the future in a league where every match counts. “We need to make sure we are nailing our short-term goals and that’s having a really good preseason, having a really good preseason tournament.”

(Jesse Louie/Just Women's Sports)

Still hungry for success, Harris lights up when talking about her determined mindset, explaining that she approaches almost everything in her life with the same intensity she brings to the pitch.

“I value showing up and giving everything for the people around me, and that’s just who I am,” she says. “I don’t like to sit in complacency. I like to sit in pressure pockets where I am pushed to learn, and I think that’s why I have always loved the position because I am constantly in pressure situations.”

The award-winning goalkeeper says she thrives in uncomfortable situations, knowing those are the times when she will learn and grow the most.

Krieger can relate as a defender, especially coming from a Pride team that gave up the third-most goals in the league in 2021. She relishes the opportunity to join Gotham’s backline, which finished the season second in goals conceded per match and fifth in shutouts.

“I just want to be around players that value defending just as much as me and I know this is a place where that exists,” says Krieger, who started all 23 of her appearances with the Pride last season, notching two assists.

Harris did her part to keep the Pride in games in 2021, surpassing the NWSL career saves record with 469 stops and going on an unprecedented penalty kick-saving streak.

(Jesse Louie/Just Women's Sports)

It’s clear that Harris and Krieger will make an impact on the pitch, but the couple also provides value to the club off the field. When announcing the trade, Averbuch West said in a statement, “I know they’ll have a tremendous impact on the field and in the locker room while also helping us cement our presence in this market.”

Their popularity among fans is something Krieger and Harris embrace, especially in a market like New York and New Jersey, where sports, culture, politics and media often converge.

“We want this game to grow in a positive, healthy direction where one day women in our sport can retire at 35 and live out the rest of their life and not have to work again,” Krieger says.

“They (the fans) feel like they are in our lives, they feel like they are connected with us, that we are friends, and I really enjoy that because that keeps bringing them back, that keeps them buying season tickets.”

Harris and Krieger have also not shied away from speaking candidly about social issues, using their platforms to bring attention to matters that are important to them.

“We are activists through and through, and I think that will never change,” Harris says. “For us, we are always going to give everything to our community and for the things we stand for and believe in.”

While Krieger says the couple’s outsized public-facing role can be overwhelming, it’s worth it to her when she sees an NWSL stadium packed with fans. With the growth of the league, Harris sees an opportunity to engage supporters in a way that matches the enthusiasm fans have for the USWNT.

The synergy between the club and its new stars is perhaps best epitomized by Gotham FC’s pre-match runway, a ritual Harris is eager to participate in as one of the most fashionable athletes in sports. While she doesn’t have her looks planned out just yet, Harris can guarantee that fans won’t be disappointed.

“I am going to bring the heat,” she says, “so just get ready.”

Clare Brennan is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports.

New USWNT Coach Emma Hayes Embracing the Challenge

United States Women's Head Coach Emma Hayes
The ex-Chelsea skipper has officially arrived in the US — now it's time to get down to business. (USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Emma Hayes has officially begun her tenure as USWNT manager ahead of the team’s June friendlies.

Hayes made the rounds on Thursday, appearing on the Today Show and speaking with select media about her goals and underlying principles with the team. It’s a quick turnaround for the decorated coach, who just won the WSL with Chelsea last weekend.

One thing that she won’t do, however, is shy away from the high expectations that come with managing the US. The squad is looking to reinstate its winning reputation at the Paris Olympics this summer following a disappointing World Cup in 2023. 

"I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the US and the rest of the world," she told ESPN. "We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn't what it was 10 years ago. It's a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world."

While Hayes was formally hired six months ago to lead the USWNT, her deal stipulated that she remain with Chelsea through the conclusion of their season. In her stead, Twila Kilgore has led the team, with the coach "drip feeding subliminal messages" to the roster on Hayes’s behalf.

"It's a bit ass-upwards," Hayes joked to reporters. "I know about the staff, and the team, and the structure behind it. We got all of that. Now it's time, I need to be with the team."

With Olympics now just two months away, Hayes dropped hints this week regarding her thought process behind building the roster, saying there’s still time for players to make their case.

"You can't go to an Olympics with a completely inexperienced squad. We need our experienced players, but getting that composition right, that's my job between now and June 16th," she said on the Today Show.

"What I can say from my time [in the US] is, I've always loved the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give everything you've got," she later affirmed to reporters.

And as for winning gold?

"I'm never gonna tell anyone to not dream about winning," she added. "But… we have to go step by step, and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

KC Current GM Camille Ashton Resigns

KC Current GM Camille Ashton
Former KC Current GM Camille Ashton left the undefeated organization early this week. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Kansas City Current general manager Camille Ashton has resigned, the club announced Wednesday.

The staffing shakeup comes as somewhat of a surprise after the Current started off the season undefeated under new head coach Vlatko Andonovski, sitting second in the NWSL standings through 10 games.

No further details were given about her departure, other than that the club "wishes her the best in her future endeavors."

"I am thankful for my time in Kansas City," Ashton said in a team statement. "It was important to me to dedicate my time and efforts to ensure a successful 2024 season by building the championship-caliber roster that's currently near the top of the table. I am proud of what we have accomplished here. I look forward to the next step in my personal and professional journey."

Ashton, who played in the league from 2014-17, helped rebuild the Current roster, including picking up then-free agent Debinha in 2023 — the biggest free agency signing of that offseason. This past offseason, she brought in international players Temwa Chawinga and Bia Zaneratto

But the club has also encountered some rough patches throughout Ashton's tenure. Following her daughter's dismissal from the Current last year, mother of 2023 draft pick Mykiaa Minniss also accused the club of mistreatment during the preseason. While both the league and NWSL Players Association looked into the comments, no formal reprimand or consequences were publicly issued.

Players like Lynn Williams, Alex Loera, and Cece Kizer voiced concerns over what they described as unexpected trades, with Kizer adding that there was "no conversation this could happen." Williams, meanwhile, was informed of her trade moments prior to its execution while she was in New Zealand with the USWNT.

"There could be a lot of debate about that on its own, but at the end of the day, that’s the mechanism that we work with right now in the league," Ashton told reporters earlier this year when quested about the Current's player trade procedures.

While the club made an NWSL championship appearance in 2022 — the year Ashton came on as general manager — the 2023 season kicked off with the team firing head coach Matt Potter just three games into the season and hours before a road game. 

At the time, the club cited "issues around his leadership and employment responsibilities" as the reasoning, though players were reportedly confused with the decision making.

Last October, the Current hired former UWSNT coach Vlatko Andonovski as head coach, in addition to giving him the title of "sporting director." Whether or not that role overlapped with Ashton’s responsibilities as general manager was cause for some speculation.

NWSL Honors UWSNT Great Lauren Holiday With Impact Award

Lauren Holiday at nwsl impact award event
USWNT legend Lauren Holiday has long been involved with social activism off the pitch. (NWSL)

The NWSL announced today that the annual civically focused Nationwide Community Impact Award would now be known as the Lauren Holiday Award in honor of the National Soccer Hall of Famer.

Since 2021, the award has recognized one NWSL player each season for their character and contributions to community service off the pitch, according to a league release. The winner of the newly retitled award receives $30,000 toward a charitable organization of their choice.

"The NWSL is proud to honor Lauren Holiday as the namesake of this award recognizing exemplary athletes and their commitment to service and activism," said NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman. "Lauren’s influential work in the community and her outstanding character both on and off the field epitomize the values we look to uphold and celebrate in the NWSL every day. 

"I can think of no one more deserving of this recognition than Lauren and look forward to seeing the continued positive impact this program has on our clubs and communities with her example guiding our efforts."

In a statement, Holiday said that throughout her career she has always "believed in the power of giving back and creating positive change." A two-time Olympic gold medalist, World Cup winner, and former NWSL MVP, Holiday founded the Jrue & Lauren Holiday Social Impact Fund alongside husband and fellow professional athlete JRue Holiday.

The fund contributes to programs that combat systemic racism and socioeconomic inequality. Holiday has also long been an advocate for legislation to help close the racial inequality gap in maternal health.

"This award is a testament to the important work that athletes are doing to strengthen and uplift their communities every day and I am deeply humbled to take on its namesake," Holiday said. "I hope it inspires others to continue their efforts in making a lasting impact on the lives of those around them."

Waylaid Seattle Rookie Nika Mühl Makes WNBA Debut

seattle storm's nika muhl guarding indiana fever's caitlin clark
Mühl spent her first few pro minutes repeating her college assignment: guarding Caitlin Clark.(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle rookie Nika Mühl made her long awaited WNBA debut in last night’s 85-83 win over Indiana after missing the first four games of the season due to visa issues. 

A Croatian national, Mühl had been waiting on P-1 visa approval in order to work legally in the US. While the paperwork came through Friday, she had to travel to Canada in order to get her status changed.

The former UConn star poked fun at the delay ahead of the game, walking into Climate Pledge Arena wearing a t-shirt displaying her approved visa.

Mühl checked into the game on Monday in the third period to a standing ovation, immediately diving over the baseline to save a loose ball. She spent her first few minutes of the game the same way she completed her career at UConn: guarding Caitlin Clark

Mühl, who had two rebounds in two and a half minutes, held Clark to five points, a rebound, and a turnover when the two were matched up. 

"I threw her in the fire," Storm coach Noelle Quinn said with a smile after the game. "It’s tough to come into the game at that rate and think that you’re going to stop the player, but I like… her physicality, her poise, her confidence. She took an open shot and I thought that was a great look for her. We’ll continue to put her in the mix in practice, and she’ll have opportunities to show what she can do on the defensive end to start."

An instant fan favorite, the UConn star donned the No. 1 jersey — in part because her usual No. 10 was retired by Seattle after Sue Bird, who wore it for her entire WNBA career, retired last year. Mühl's new number was chosen by none other than Bird herself. 

"I actually FaceTimed Sue and asked her what number I should wear. She took a day to think about it and came back to me with an answer of No. 1," Muhl said in a WNBA video posted to social media. "When I asked her why No. 1, she basically said 'This is a new beginning, but you’re not starting from scratch.' I loved that whole analogy and story, so Sue actually picked it and I love it."

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