In her return from a concussion, Ali Krieger wore red during the Washington Spirit’s workout Wednesday at Maryland SoccerPlex.
“Precious cargo,” she said with a smile afterward.
Amid the yellows and grays, Krieger’s distinct pinny was both a repellent against contact in practice and a reminder of a head injury suffered 17 minutes into the season opener three weeks ago.
After missing two National Women’s Soccer League matches, Krieger this week took incremental steps toward returning to active duty. Her aims were to ensure symptoms had subsided and regain fitness before reporting to the U.S. national team this weekend in Southern California for the start of World Cup training camp.
“I think of it as a snow globe: All of the little pieces are trying to figure out where to settle in your head,” said the Northern Virginia native and Penn State graduate. “So every time you run around, they are moving a little bit. When I wake up and make my way to training, I sense it. It takes time in the morning to get my head going.”
Krieger (Forest Park High in Prince William County) followed NWSL and U.S. soccer concussion protocol before returning to practice, and even then, her workouts were limited to sprints, ball work and the stay-away-from-me intrasquad session. Even if she weren’t off to U.S. camp today, Krieger would not have been back in the normal routine in time for the Spirit’s match Saturday night at Seattle.
During Krieger’s recovery, Spirit Coach Mark Parsons said, there was frequent communication between “our trainer, the U.S. conditioning coach, the U.S. trainer and the U.S. doctor. We are all on the same page. The steps that have to happen, the protocol, everyone believes in. The timeline has been appropriate and seems to be working well.”
The injury occurred on April 10 in Houston on an aerial challenge in the penalty area. Krieger was attempting to flick the ball away when Dash forward Jessica McDonald’s head crashed into hers.
“It was horrific,” Parsons said. “Two committed players.”
Krieger, 30, was treated on the field for eight minutes, removed on a stretcher and taken to a hospital.
“It scared me,” she said. “I was lying there, thinking, ‘Let me start moving my legs, at least.’ So I tried moving my legs and arms. ‘My shoulder feels intact. No broken bones.’ I knew it was my head. I knew this is going to take time.”
Krieger was released from the hospital late that night and accompanied the team back to Washington. The results of immediate post-concussion assessment and cognitive testing (ImPACT) were encouraging, and she began recovering from her second concussion in 20 months.
It was worse in the summer of 2013; she missed four games “but then, for two months, I felt off.”
Despite the approaching World Cup, Krieger said she is “not going to rush it because I don’t want this to end my career. I want to play longer.”
Krieger, who started in the 2011 World Cup in Germany, is U.S. Coach Jill Ellis’s first choice at right back. In the hours after the incident in Houston, Krieger spoke with Ellis on the phone. “She told me to rest, get my mind right and we’ll bring you back.” Four days later, Krieger was among 23 players named to the squad.
At U.S. camp, the medical staff will continue monitoring her. She might test padded head gear. The concussion and subsequent inactivity will probably prevent her from playing in the first World Cup tune-up, next Saturday against Ireland in San Jose. The Americans will also face Mexico on May 17 in Carson, Calif., and South Korea on May 30 in Harrison, N.J., before heading to Canada for the Group D opener against Australia on June 8 in Winnipeg.
Krieger could not help but curse the terrible timing of another injury. In 2012, six months before the Olympics, she tore two ligaments in her right knee and missed the gold medal adventure in England.
This time around, she takes comfort in having rested for three weeks and having a month to prep for the World Cup.
“I am glad to make it back to the Cup,” she said. “It took years to feel the way I do now [after the knee injury]. I’m counting down the days.”
To read about Krieger’s medical hardships in college, including a near-death experience, and career pursuits in Germany, I profiled her in The Post four years ago.
Her new USSF video profile: