Since her national team career blossomed some 8½ years ago, Ali Krieger has made close to 100 appearances, celebrated a World Cup championship and experienced World Cup heartbreak. There have been trips to almost every corner of the planet, rousing welcomes at sold-out home venues and a ticker-tape parade down Broadway.

Until now, though, one conspicuous item remained missing from her otherwise spotless portfolio: the Olympics.

A week after celebrating her 32nd birthday, the Prince William County native is in Brazil with the top-ranked Americans, who on Wednesday will begin their quest for a fourth consecutive gold medal by facing New Zealand in group play in Belo Horizonte.

Krieger, in her fourth season with the Washington Spirit, is the oldest first-time Olympian in the august history of U.S. women’s soccer.

“I joke that I only play in World Cups,” Krieger said last week during a stopover in Washington. “Call me when we have a World Cup!”

In 2008, with only six months of national team experience, Krieger was an alternate on the Olympic squad. Four years later, she was slated to start at the London Games, but in the first match of the qualifying tournament in early 2012, she tore her right ACL and MCL.

Washington Spirits players Ali Krieger and Crystal Dunn talk about their missed opportunities at gold ahead of their first Olympics games in Brazil. (Ashleigh Joplin, Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post)

On both occasions, Krieger watched the Olympics from Frankfurt, where she played professionally from 2007 to 2012.

For men and women, the World Cup is more important than the Olympics. For the women, the World Cup predates the Olympic introduction by five years, involves more teams over a longer period and celebrates soccer exclusively.

On the men’s side, the gap in interest and reputation is much larger: The Olympic tournament is for players age 23 and under, with three exceptions per team. (The women field senior squads in both events.)

Despite the Olympics’ secondary status, the mystique has always pulled at Krieger.

“We’re part of a bigger team than just a soccer team,” said Krieger, a graduate of Forest Park High School and Penn State. “The World Cup focus is football. Team USA is more than football. We have that much more support and motivation. You want to win for every American athlete in Brazil, not just our team.”

At these Olympics, there is additional motivation: No women’s team has won the World Cup title and Olympic gold medal in consecutive years. The United States fell one game short in 2000. So did Japan in 2012.

The Americans raised the World Cup trophy last summer in Vancouver, their first since 1999. In the past 13 months, Jill Ellis’s squad has gone 21-1-2, the loss coming to China in a friendly in New Orleans in December.

Krieger was among 14 World Cup players selected to the 18-strong Olympic roster. She is joined by Spirit teammate Crystal Dunn, the last player cut from the World Cup squad. Three Spirit players — Diana Matheson, Stephanie Labbe and Shelina Zadorsky — will play for Canada, which won bronze four years ago.

Despite starting in the past two World Cups, Krieger is slated to come off the bench at the Olympics. Kelley O’Hara has been Ellis’s first-choice right back in most matches since February. Krieger has appeared in 12 of 15 games in 2016, with five starting assignments.

With five fewer players than for the World Cup, there was no guarantee Krieger would make the squad.

“She probably had a little bit of stress about not starting the last couple months,” Spirit Coach Jim Gabarra said. “There is always that seed of doubt: ‘Does the coach see me on the roster?’ But she handled it well and was focused on the club and helped us get some real positive momentum going.”

With Krieger guiding the backline, the Spirit (9-3-2) is tied for first in the National Women’s Soccer League entering the Olympic break and tied for fewest goals conceded (12).

She said she has accepted her reserve role with the national team, knowing she will almost surely be needed in a tournament that, with advancement to the gold-medal match Aug. 19 at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, would require six games in 17 days with only 16 available non-goalkeepers.

“It’s going to be physically and emotionally exhausting and draining,” she said. “I know every single player is going to be needed” as a substitute or starter.

Which is better than not being there at all. In 2008, as an alternate, Krieger did not travel with the team to Beijing. (In the past two Olympics, the alternates have accompanied the U.S. delegation to the host country and, as in the past, do not receive medals.)

“I was a bubble player,” she said. “I was still two steps behind and I could feel that. I knew I was in the right place in Germany preparing for the next opportunity.”

Krieger’s growth at FFC Frankfurt and in national team camps lifted her stock ahead of the 2011 World Cup. She started all six matches and converted the winning penalty kick during the epic quarterfinal victory against Brazil.

On track to retain her role at the Olympics a year later, the knee injury wrecked her plans. While her U.S. teammates were in England, Krieger watched from her Frankfurt apartment or on a stationary bike in the rehabilitation facility.

For the gold-medal game, she flew to London and watched from Nike’s private suite at Wembley Stadium.

Krieger dismisses any suggestions that, at age 32 and with the next World Cup three years away, she might retire from international soccer after her long-awaited first Olympics.

“I feel the most fit and strongest I’ve felt in my career,” she said. “My heart is still in it, and as long as that is strong, I don’t see myself, anytime soon, stopping.”


U.S. group-play schedule

All times are Eastern

Wednesday: New Zealand in Belo Horizonte, 6 p.m.

Saturday: France in Belo Horizonte, 4 p.m.

Tuesday: Colombia in Manaus, 6 p.m.

TV: Every match live on NBCSN and NBC Universo.

Live streams:

Potential knockout-stage matches

Aug. 12: quarterfinal in Brasilia or Sao Paulo

Aug. 16: semifinal in Rio de Janeiro or Belo Horizonte

Aug. 19: final in Rio de Janeiro

U.S. roster

Goalkeepers: Hope Solo (Seattle Reign), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars).

Defenders: Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers).

Midfielders: Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns), Allie Long (Portland Thorns), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign).

Forwards: Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Mallory Pugh (UCLA).

Alternates (available in case of injury only): GK Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), D Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns), MF Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City), MF Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash).