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Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris are living their best lives – together.
They haven’t enjoyed a honeymoon yet – they had to go straight into a USWNT camp and are now with the team vying for a berth into the 2020 Olympics – but it’s been something of a whirlwind fairytale since the pair went public about their relationship back in March.
Now, as a married couple and as individuals, Harris and Krieger are blazing a trail as role models and voices that in the past were often ignored. They’ve been vocal advocates for equal pay for women and they’ve quickly become one of the country’s most high-profile same-sex couples, particularly in the world of sports. And it’s all made them more popular than ever.
“Ali and I talk about this all the time in terms of visibility and what culture means to us,” Harris tells Yahoo Sports in an exclusive interview. “When I think back to my childhood, we didn’t have people who looked like us when we opened magazines or watched advertisements.
“We’re super proud of what we stand for and that companies and brands are getting behind that and are willing to be part of that cultural change. For such a long time, we didn’t have a place, but now we do and we’re being celebrated and it’s really rewarding.”
Harris and Krieger: USWNT power couple
The brands lining up to work with Harris and Krieger include Budweiser, which prominently features the couple toward the end of a new ad slated to run during Sunday’s Super Bowl, the most visible platform in American sports. A teaser video designed to gin up anticipation for the ad also featured them.
Yet when the pair first met at a USWNT camp in 2010 and fell in love, they didn’t share their relationship beyond close friends and family for fear it would impact their status on their teams, both club and country, or alienate potential sponsors.
“That was the mindset – it wasn’t, ‘Let’s keep this away from the public,’” Krieger says. “It was more, ‘Let’s make sure we aren’t losing our jobs because we don’t know how people are going to react.’ It wasn’t as if we were hiding.”
Over the years, however, things changed.
There were the changes that happened outside of the bubble Harris and Krieger created for themselves. More and more prominent figures were coming out, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to make gay marriage legal, and public sentiment increasingly became more accepting.
But then there were the changing attitudes of Krieger and Harris themselves.
“We are private people and we want to keep something at the end of the day just for ourselves, but also we want to create this change,” Krieger says. “We want to have families and young kids and adults understand that this is also normal life – two women can be together, two men can be together. You’re two humans who love each other and are living this beautiful life together and are successful, so there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Over the years, they sought advice from close friends, like past and present USWNT players Abby Wambach, Lori Lindsey and Megan Rapinoe. They spoke to their agents at Wasserman. Ultimately, they revealed their relationship when the timing felt right for them.
“When I think back, I’m a little disappointed in myself that I waited this long,” Harris says, “because I have kids come up to me and they have families who look like me and Ali. Or older people say, ‘Hey, you saved our lives and we’re finally able to start living an authentic life.’ I know what it feels like to only give a part of me to someone.
“I wish I had felt I was in a safe space to do this a long time ago.”
The timing has seemingly worked out for the pair, even if it’s much later than they would’ve liked.
After they won a World Cup together as a newly out couple, brands eager to attach themselves to strong, powerful women especially took notice of Krieger and Harris.
After years of having to try to advocate for better investment in female athletes and women’s soccer on their own, the assist from brands like Budweiser, which has become the flagship backer of the National Women’s Soccer League, is a game-changer.
“We can only do so much, but we need companies to invest in what we’re trying to create,” Harris says. “We can only take it so far. We show up, we do our job and we’re the best version of ourselves.”
The USWNT testing their relationship
But before they became the winningest power couple in sports and clinked beers in a Super Bowl ad, Krieger was going through perhaps the most difficult moment of her professional career – and it wasn’t easy on her relationship with Harris either.
Not long after the 2016 Olympics, where the USWNT bombed out of the quarterfinal stage, coach Jill Ellis sought regenerate the team by eliminating veterans in favor of grooming up-and-comers. Krieger, a center back and right back, was one of those cuts.
“I really went through it. I got fired,” Krieger tells Yahoo Sports. “And that was difficult to go through because I knew my worth and I knew I deserved to be there but I didn’t really have a reason of why.”
“I’m thinking to myself, I’m still good enough to be there. What did I do wrong?” she adds. “I had to go through it without closure. It’s like leaving a relationship and not understanding why you broke up.”
For two years, Krieger didn’t even get a call-up to a USWNT camp to try to prove she belonged. For all she knew, her time representing the United States was over.
But as hard as it was, Harris was still part of the USWNT as a backup goalkeeper and Krieger needed to compartmentalize her feelings to be a supportive girlfriend.
“I detached the emotion and I was committed to supporting her,” Krieger says. “She’d drag my ass out of bed, no matter how tired and upset I was, and said, ‘You’re gonna be kicking balls with me’ or whatever it was.
“Ash was my rock through that whole experience, and it was really s---ty for us. Our relationship took a hit because of how upset and sad I was, but we pushed each other, we pulled each other up, and we supported each other.”
Together, they made sure Krieger would be prepared if her second chance ever arrived with the USWNT – and it did, unexpectedly in the USWNT’s final camp before Ellis had to pick her World Cup roster. Krieger admits the call-up was as out of the blue as it seemed for fans and journalists – but she was ready for it, thanks in part to her then-fiancée, Harris.
Everyone knows how the story ends by now: Krieger ultimately did make the World Cup roster, and together Krieger and Harris lifted their second World Cup trophy together after winning in 2015.
But Krieger’s experience being cut from the team wasn’t entirely negative. It helped her and Harris envision their lives after soccer. After all, the USWNT players know their soccer careers are temporary and they still have the rest of their lives together.
Krieger began doing work as a studio analyst for BeIN Sports and Major League Soccer, she launched her own youth soccer camp program called AKFC, and she completed coach license courses.
“It was an opportunity for her to figure out a little more of herself and what life was going to be like outside the national team,” Harris says. “Was it hard for her? Yeah, but she was still fine. She was doing all these things and she was thriving because people like her, with her mental strength, she’s going to be OK.”
For now, the couple is focused on getting through CONCACAF qualifying for the Olympics, where the USWNT beat Haiti to open the campaign Tuesday and faces Panama on Friday.
After that, they will try to make the Olympic roster and then attempt to do what no team has ever done by winning a gold medal after winning a World Cup. A honeymoon for the couple will come sometime after that, when it can truly be stress-free, Krieger says.
Where the pair ends up longer-term after they hang up their cleats is still up in the air, but everything they’ve been up to – playing soccer, being spokeswomen, and so on – will help them get there.
“Everything we do is building a future,” Harris says. “To me, the possibilities are endless.”
Caitlin Murray is a contributor to Yahoo Sports and her book about the U.S. women’s national team, The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer, is out now. Follow her on Twitter @caitlinmurr.
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