VANCOUVER, B.C.—The U.S. women's soccer team's run to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament has been led by a series of unlikely heroines, but the most remarkable may be a player who isn't even in town. Right back Ali Krieger was seriously hurt in the Americans' first game against the Dominican Republic, tearing both her ACL and MCL, and she may be out even through the Olympics themselves. Despite flying home Monday to have surgery, though, she was still very much in the minds of the remaining U.S. players in Tuesday's 4-0 win over Mexico. Midfielder Carli Lloyd, who led the Americans with a hat trick Tuesday, said she was inspired by Krieger.
"I dedicate that win to her, I dedicate my hat trick to her," Lloyd said. "It's unfortunate she couldn't be with us."
The absence of Krieger, a reliable wingback who started every U.S. game in the 2011 World Cup, has hit the whole team hard. The Americans have a great deal of depth and have dominated every game they've played, so losing Krieger to injury hasn't doomed them, but she's still very much in the minds of the team. On Tuesday night, they wrote "Liebe" (German for "love") on their arms to honor her, as Krieger has a "Liebe" tattoo. U.S. striker Abby Wambach said afterwards the idea came from third goalkeeper Jill Loyden, and it inspired the team.
"It was Jill Loyden's idea, and I think it was brilliant," Wambach said. "We love her and we miss her."
That love is reciprocated, as Krieger tweeted Tuesday that she loved the gesture. Here are her tweets on the game and her comments to Lloyd and midfielder Megan Rapinoe afterwards:
Krieger's injury will hurt the U.S., but it could have been devastating to a team with less options. A hallmark of this American squad has been its depth. In Sunday's game against Guatemala, Heather Mitts and Kelley O'Hara stepped into the wingback slots (with Mitts on the left) and stepped up; head coach Pia Sundhage was pleased with their performances.
"In the second half, Kelley O'Hara got some crosses in from the left, which was really great; as you know, she's a midfielder/forward, but we're trying to make her an outside back," Sundhage said. "It is important to have outside backs going forward and completing passes. ... We need crosses into the box because we have goal-scorers, so when they get crosses in, it's dangerous."
Against Mexico, Rachel Buehler filled Kreiger's right-back role with Amy Lepeilbet starting on the left flank, and Sundhage said Buehler in particular did well.
"Rachel Buehler as a right back turned out to be a pretty good move," she said. "That's one of the options that we will probably try more often going forward."
Wambach said it's crucial for the U.S. players to keep Krieger in their minds, but not to obsess over what they could have done with her in the lineup. She cited her own injury in 2008 as an example.
"When I went down in 2008, not to make this about me because this is about Ali, but I know that it was important for those players to play, to forget about me in some way, but I also know that they kept me with them," she said. "It felt great to know that even though I wasn't there, I was still a part of that group. Ali will be a part of this team whether she's here or not. She's an integral part of this team on and off the field."