Krieger and Harris announced their engagement exclusively with PEOPLE in March

By Jason Duaine Hahn
April 23, 2019 04:00 PM

When Orlando Pride stars Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger announced their engagement to PEOPLE last month, the two felt a sense of “liberation” after keeping their relationship secret for years.

“You’re always fearful of that — you never know how people are going to react, and you might lose fans, or lose respect,” Harris, 33, tells PEOPLE exclusively of why the couple chose to publicly confirm their love for the first time.

“You never know where people lie on the political scale, so it was definitely risky,” she continues. “But in the end, we had such a great outpouring of just love and acceptance, and were so grateful for how we’re continuing to progress and move forward in society, and being accepted for being authentically who we are.”

Harris and Krieger— whose romance started after they met while playing for the U.S. National Team in 2010 — were flooded with congratulatory messages after the engagement news, and over the next few weeks, their loved ones remarked that the couple looked more “happy, fresh and relieved.”

The two held back from confirming their relationship to keep an “element of professionalism” while on the field together, and over fears of how their peers and fans would react. Now, Harris feels like a nine-year weight has been lifted from their shoulders.

Ashlyn Harris
Jon Johnson for Umbro

“Now we’re just like, we don’t f—ing care anymore. It’s like when we’re off the field, this is my life, and this is how it’s gonna be, and eventually we’re gonna have kids together, and I don’t have to stress anymore,” Harris, who is represented by Wasserman, explains. “The stress is totally gone. It totally melted away, and I still feel light inside, and I’m glad I’m not carrying this weight on my back, and it feels good … it’s absolutely freeing.”

But the effects of their engagement spanned much wider than they could have anticipated, as some fans reached out to say their news inspired them to be open about their own sexuality.

“It’s so inspiring to me,” Harris says. “It’s making sure I’m influencing other people to just fully accept who they are, and live the most authentic life they can, and that’s just coming to terms with who they are. And if I can help someone do that, then gosh, that’s great. It makes me so full inside.”

Ashlyn Harris
Jon Johnson for Umbro

Harris recently participated in a campaign by iconic soccer sportswear company Umbro, which celebrates its 95th anniversary this year. Harris is featured in photos by photographer Jon Johnson, posing draped in the American flag and wearing the latest threads from the longtime company’s latest collection.

Between photo shoots and planning the wedding ceremony, Harris and Krieger are also awaiting the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer. Fortunately, the two have found the perfect training partners in each other.

“It makes me better, and we push each other. Don’t get me wrong, but we definitely push each other, and we hold each other accountable, and that’s just like the kind of culture and standard we’ve brought into our relationship,” Harris explains. “We definitely are very competitive, and we try to make sure always to bring out the best in each other, but within that, always competing and striving to be the best version of ourselves.”

She adds: “So, we compete, and it’s good. It’s a good competition. It’s totally lifting each other up and pushing each other as much as we can. So it’s a good level of competition that’s respectful, and very uplifting.”

Ashlyn Harris
Jon Johnson for Umbro

With so much left to do, the two are aiming for a New Year’s wedding in Miami — a day that can’t come quickly enough for the lovebirds.

“I just feel so happy. When I’m training, and I’m in games, and challenges or things aren’t going my way, I literally am so happy to go home to the family I’m creating,” Harris says. “It just makes life so enjoyable, and waking up every day for a new adventure with my little family, and it’s like the best feeling in the world.”