Casey Krueger always wears her Apple Watch during training.
The Red Stars defender prefers to track her miles rather than count her steps, like most Americans do.
Last Saturday, during a Red Stars scrimmage at the team’s training facility in Bridgeview, Krueger’s watch ended up alerting her to more than her mileage count. She noticed messages coming in from U.S. Soccer informing her that she would be replacing Alana Cook on the U.S. Women’s National Team roster for the 2021 SheBelieves Cup.
Unable to read everything thoroughly, Krueger at first wasn’t sure she should believe her eyes.
“I turned to Tierna [Davidson] and said ‘I think I just got called into SheBelieves, but I’m not 100% sure,’ ” Krueger said.
She confirmed her call-up after practice, and less than 48 hours later, was on a flight to Orlando, Florida.
When the original 23-player roster was announced for the four-team international tournament, which takes place from Thursday through Feb. 24, Krueger dismissed the possibility she could make coach Vlatko Andonovski’s 18-player Olympic roster. She shifted her focus to the Red Stars because, in her mind, if she wasn’t with the team in Orlando, it didn’t seem realistic she would be with it in Tokyo.
About a week before learning she would be replacing Cook, she had a conversation with Andonovski, during which he said she was still very much in the USWNT mix.
Before leaving for Orlando, Red Stars coach Rory Dames gave Krueger some advice that shifted her outlook on training camp.
“He said, ‘Go there and just have fun,’ ” Krueger said. “It sounds simple, but I think it’s a totally new perspective for me.”
This is Krueger’s first time joining the USWNT training environment since last year’s SheBelieves Cup, and she said this is the best she has felt in a few years. The time off has allowed her to focus on getting her body back to full fitness and feeling mentally refreshed.
In previous camps, Krueger said, she tended to stress out thinking about the pressures attached to making the roster.
When analyzing the depth of this team, it’s hard to imagine a flawed 18-player Olympic roster. For competitors like Krueger, it’s even more difficult to make peace with the possibility you aren’t one of the 18 but still a valuable part of the team’s success as a whole.
Krueger said it was something she got caught up with ahead of the 2019 World Cup. She said the desire to make the final roster never leaves your mind. It’s an inherent quality that drives them as elite competitors.
She said she knows now that only positives will come out of every experience with the USWNT.
“Whether you make the final roster or not, being in this environment, you become a better player,” Krueger said.
With the addition of Krueger, the Red Stars have five players in Orlando. She joins Alyssa Naeher, Julie Ertz and Davidson, while Mal Pugh is a training player.
Krueger said being surrounded by so many club teammates in the USWNT training environment is a game-changer and helps her tremendously.
Before leaving for Orlando, the USWNT players spent a week in preseason training with their Red Stars teammates.
Forward Kealia Watt, who is in her second year with the Red Stars, said the competition level has been high from Day 1 and the depth on the roster only has intensified that.
The nearly three-month preseason training schedule is new for players, but it’s a welcome change after the inconsistency of 2020. Right now, the focus for the Red Stars is on making small improvements every day.
“Every team you play in this league is good,” Watt said. “It’s really important to have laid the groundwork to revisit during the season when things get really hard.’’