Ally Schlegel interview: Appetite for disruption – The college rockout, to Red Star rising

Photo: Chicago Red Stars/Gretchen Schneider (

As Ally Schlegel the rookie exits stage left, the pro game has had just its first glimpse of a player with showtime spirit. While the Chicago Red Stars attacker readies herself for an increased role in the next act, she is open to one unavoidable part of her profile being given a rock ‘n’ roll tune-up.

Neither her attacking abilities nor the entrancing energy she brings are a secret to those who shared in her collegiate career, but the NWSL and Ally Schlegel have only recently been getting acquainted. When the Penn State favourite met Chicago Red Stars teammate Julia Bianchi’s corner with full force in June’s home game with Portland Thorns, she had her second professional goal.

The first had come at OL Reign on her debut two months earlier, and without any input this time from what the 23-year-old lovingly refers to as ‘that obnoxious, thick, pink headband.’ A source of intrigue for most of her years on the field so far, the curiosity around the accessory will almost certainly continue with every new fan and media outlet to discover her in the future.

As recounted before, it began when Ally and her childhood teammates received them at the Blues Cup tournament, with Ally sticking with it thereafter, accruing roughly another six of the same style as gifts from people over the following years. Understandably, she may already be tired of that backstory, so in anticipation of the day she gets her own Wikipedia page, how about a glammed-up myth to go with it?

In this suggested, alternative version, her on-field fabric was actually inspired by Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose.

“I think I need to pick up a new story,” she responds. “You know what?”

“I kind of like it. There was a rumour started once that I don’t wash it and there’s only one of them, so this is so much better of a rumour to start; we’re on to something with this.”

While there is obviously far more to Ally Schlegel ‘behind the band,’ it is fitting on-stage garb for a personality who is a ray of light in the face of everyday mundanity. Unlike Axl Rose, she places golden meaning on her rapport with colleagues (and hasn’t yet been known to appear hours late for work).

Nothing, though, cuts to her emotions, or fans the flames of nostalgia, in quite the same way as her personal soundtrack.

“I feel like music is such an influential part of my life, and I can totally tie certain music to specific people, specific times; I love music. There’s six albums on the back of my wall, so I feel like I have to go through those.

“(The) College Dropout, Kanye West, is first. Then I have the Greatest Hits by the Eagles; I went and saw the Eagles in concert with my grandma, it was amazing.

“I was the youngest person there by like a billion years. Then I have Made in the A.M., One Direction; I am a Directioner through and through, I will spend my life savings when they do a reunion tour.

Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper, American Heartbreak, Zach Bryan, and The Lumineers, by The Lumineers. I feel like that wall really describes my music tastes well, because there’s kind of all different genres.”

Chicago recently marked a decade since Chance the Rapper’s celebrated Acid Rap mixtape, with a sellout hometown show at the United Center. For Ally, meanwhile, the city has been playing host to the production of her own meaningful project – the follow-up to her critically-acclaimed Penn State breakthrough.

PSU’s 2020-21 Female Athlete of the Year was a second-round pick (23rd overall) in this year’s NWSL Draft, ensuring that her first professional season would come alongside the likes of U.S. Women’s National Team number one (and fellow Nittany Lion) Alyssa Naeher. It is a Red Stars locker room that now says goodbye to one of its brightest influences, with the retirement of forward and Jamaican international Cheyna Matthews.

Describing their team as one that does ‘a good job of just being cool with each other,’ Ally sets the scene of the gameday inner sanctum.

“I do feel like we have a more mellow team but Sam (Fisher) and Ava (Cook) really take hold of the music and the dancing. It really depends, like sometimes, there’s a day where they only play Michael Jackson, which was super fun and everyone was very into that, but I feel like gameday vibes are your typical rap, pump-up songs that everybody will get up and bop their heads to.

“Sam and Ava, they are the dancing queens. We also had a day where we were only playing ABBA before practice; that was incredible.”

Ally had spoken before Chicago’s penultimate game of this season – a swashbuckling 6-3 loss at Kansas City Current that ultimately ended their play-off hopes – about being willing to embrace her current role of coming on to disrupt defenders. After that game, now-outgoing head coach Chris Petrucelli highlighted the positivity among the team’s younger contingent, with Ally the first name he credited.

For examples to learn from, it is hard to go wrong with a World Cup winner like Yuki Nagasato. As explored with her on this site back in 2020, the former Japan international joined a band during her previous spell in Chicago, and Ally confirms it is not just her experienced forward play she has managed to pass on this year.

“There was one day where we were all talking in the locker room about our favourite types of music. We had a whiteboard where you could make notes on what was your top couple favourite genres, and she wrote ‘ska.’

“And I was like ‘what is that?’ She played a couple songs for me of this ska music; I knew songs that were in that genre, but didn’t really know that was a genre!”

Sharing at the start of this interview how she had just bought tickets for the musical Hamilton that evening, Ally’s absorption of all that Chicagoland has to offer has included Cubs games in her time off, in true Ferris Bueller style. Lip-syncing on a float through town to the Beatles’ ‘Twist and Shout,’ however, has not yet followed (at least we think).

She may have been wishing for the miming option when a crucial moment came her way at Penn State.

“I did have to sing in college, where you have the headphones over your ears and you just have to scream it. We were riding on the bus and it was time to do it, and I tried to act like I was asleep; people were poking me and I was like, ‘Don’t wake me up for this!’

“So, honestly, I did not put my best effort into it, and I’m pretty sure it was ‘Fire Burning’ by Sean Kingston. I wanted to do ‘No One’ by Alicia Keys; somebody else did that and I would have loved that.”

Hitting the high notes in Happy Valley was, though, an almost-daily occurrence for her squad.

“I definitely think in college (music) was a big, big deal. You know the song ‘Tiimmy Turner’ (by Desiigner)?

“We always played that song before our coach, Tim (Wassell), walked in! We were banging the walls.

“We always had a song for our head coach (Erica Dambach) coming in that she had to dance to; I think the last one we chose was ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ by Whitney Houston. But Maddie Myers was our go-to, she was on the aux, she had to deal with the speaker – that was her job for basically four years.

“I would help her and we would curate the playlist for pre-game. There were always a few pre-game dances over the years that people would have; I remember Ellie Jean used to do ‘Level Up’ (Ciara) in 2019, which was really fun.

“One tradition – I don’t know how this started – we would religiously play ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ (by Rednex) before every Penn State game!”

Ally was still a few years from being born when Sweden’s finest country-Eurodance exports were infecting the senses (and causing dancefloor collisions) around the globe with that one in the ‘90s. The start of her own song collection came in the following decade.

“I feel like my earliest memories of music are this little, pink iPod shuffle that I’m sure held like 20 songs, but it was what I could listen to when I was skiing. The Dutchess by Fergie, that album I loved growing up!

“My parents really liked The Killers, so I loved listening to them.”

She would call Parker, Colorado home right up until her family moved to Grand County’s Granby during the pandemic, with music a much-loved supporting act in the outdoor lifestyle she still relishes today.

“I love gospel rap specifically, so I like Kanye and Chance because of that, and I think that really stems from my family. We were always listening to rap, which is kind of funny – we were driving through the mountains, banging Lil Wayne!

“One of my best friends, Kelly Koehler, she was like the music guru; she was the one who grabbed the aux in the car when we were driving to the mountains, every time. When I went to college, I had a boyfriend who was very Central PA (Pennsylvania), and that’s where I got some country roots, because I used to be like, ‘I hate country music, it sucks, I don’t know why people listen to this,’ and I listen to country all the time now.”

A U.S. Under-23, her time with the youth national team dates back to U14s, with experience as captain along the way. Her teenage years also brought euphoria on the big occasion that soccer had no hand in at all.

“We were blessed that our local venue was Red Rocks, and so we had so many fun memories there. I saw (the Be Encouraged Tour, in support of) Coloring Book, that was my first one, with Chance, and everyone at this concert will tell this story, but it was supposed to rain all night, and it only rained during ‘Sunday Candy’ (Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment cover) – it was a spiritual experience.

“We saw Billie Eilish there, Post Malone, Louis the Child with Big Wild and Quinn (XCII). I saw Young the Giant, Vance Joy, Caamp.

“I got to see The Lumineers finally last summer; that was also just a spiritual experience. I saw One Direction, second row, eighth grade; that will always be up there.

“Those are a few, but Red Rocks the venue, there’s something so special. I’ve just not had another experience in music that I love more than Red Rocks.”

At Billie Eilish’s Red Rocks concert in June 2019. (

Graduating last year (cum laude), she had majored in corporate innovation and entrepreneurship, so we know that the firebrand forward brings a business mindset (but this is about the music, man!). She is momentarily cast here in the role of festival organiser, with any acts from all-time eligible.

“I have to see Beyoncé, that has to happen. I’ve always wanted to see J. Cole, Kendrick (Lamar), Kanye.

“Zach Bryan I must see next year, and Morgan Wallen; I need to see my country artists. Seeing The Lumineers was incredible but I would love to see them again.

“And…I would love, love, love to see Fleetwood Mac; I wanted to see that with my grandma but it got cancelled when they were on tour in Louisville.”

Along with her career’s first goals, her rookie season has brought examples of teammates profiting from Ally’s industry and intelligence. September’s 2-2 home draw with Angel City saw her tenacity to win possession and look for Cheyna Matthews result in the point-securing equaliser.

Servicing teammates comes as standard, but who will assist her on this next one? Asked which player she would collaborate with if she ever recorded a cover song, her fellow Red Stars rookie jumped to the front of the queue.

“Me and Sophie Jones were singing ‘I Want It That Way’ (Backstreet Boys) the other day…and I think we sounded beautiful!”

Making sweet music came easily (almost as easy as that segue…) with her Penn State team. Leading the Big Ten for goals (13) in her final season, one two-goal display in particular helped ensure some of the most cherished team celebrations from her collegiate career.

PSU toppled number-one seed Michigan State 3-2 to return from Columbus, Ohio as Big Ten Tournament champions last November. It was an occasion Ally has previously called ‘a family affair,’ with waves of support felt from across Nittany Nation.

Named Offensive Player of the Tournament, their goalkeeper Katherine Asman took the defensive award, as PSU’s players savoured the moment together ahead of the NCAA Tournament. It had actually been the only season Ally played without a former teammate she describes as her ‘dearest friend.’

Now an NWSL opponent, Portland Thorns’ U.S. international Sam Coffey led the league in assists (8) for 2023’s regular season. If the 24-year-old New Yorker’s vintage midfield play has people harking back to the best of yesteryear, her sound choices certainly will.

“Sam, I do not think she listens to music after the 1980s, she’s such an old soul,” Ally explains. “She introduced me to so many; I have a playlist of songs that we love.”

“We’re ABBA lovers, she likes Simon and Garfunkel, we also love Fleetwood Mac. Our favourite song I would say is ‘Against the Wind’ by The Highwaymen (Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band cover); we bang that song.

“We listen to ‘Rock the Casbah’ (The Clash), we also really share a love for The Lumineers. I can remember so many Pennsylvania drives with me and Sam just playing all these songs together.

“She’s such an old-classics gal, it’s great, she really balances me out.”

Just as her former co-pilot still has the same 17 on her jersey that she wore in college, Ally remains number 34. A sense of continuity comes even easier when you get to kick off your pro career on the same team as a friend, as was the case for Ally and recent Penn State forward Penelope Hocking this year.

The two were semi-finalists for the prestigious MAC Hermann Trophy in 2020-21 (while Hocking was at USC), with Ally nominated again in 2022. The adaptation to the NWSL for collegiate standouts, though, encompasses far more than just sharpening a few on-field aspects.

Playing style aside, when your personality had become so synonymous with your former team and school, how straightforward a challenge is transferring it to the big league?

“As much as I want to be, ‘I came in and I was Ally Schlegel, bla, bla, bla,’ that’s so not true. It takes time to navigate a new environment, because as much as Penn State and all of the things of my past meant so much to me, this is a new environment.

“It takes…not a new me, but an evolved version of me, because you can’t just be who you are in college for the rest of your life! It did take some time to figure out who I wanted to be in this phase.

“I’m around great people, and a great city, I’ve made so many good friends and connections here, but I do think internally, it has taken some time to adjust. Every day that passes, you feel more and more comfortable in your own skin, and I think that comes with faith, too, which is really important to me.

“I think that has allowed me to step into that with confidence, and not be so worried about what people may think, or even what I think of myself.”

Her taste for the game’s physical duels is also alive and well, as evidenced when brushing aside OL Reign’s World Cup winner Emily Sonnett before curling home her aforementioned debut goal. She speaks with respect for all of the league’s defenders, also appreciating the chance to compete this year against Penn State alumnae Elizabeth Ball (Kansas City Current) and retiring icon Ali Krieger (NJ/NY Gotham FC).

While Ally’s presence guarantees sparks, she is intent on her impact at pro level being more than just a firecracker in the sky. The work never entirely ceases for today’s players, though the upcoming off-season does give some deserved opportunity to disengage, after a year of physical and mental endurance.

“I think I’m gonna split some time in different places, but I am so excited to get back home and just be in the mountains; I just cannot wait to smell the fresh air and be up in Granby. My dad and my brother are always scheming a new place to check out.

“We spent a lot of time in Wyoming, so I think that we want to go back to Casper and experience the scene during the winter.”

Formerly chair of the Penn State Student-Athlete Advisory Board, the rockstar ethos is just one side of an Ally Schlegel who carries as much nous as she does infectious enthusiasm. Upon starting college, she shared her ambition to run a business ‘selling cabin, right-off-the-ski-slope-type sweaters out of a renovated school bus.’

Wherever her attacking instincts on the field lead her, does she envisage a switch to a strait-laced and stern persona in her post-playing future? Perhaps even a full rebrand to…Allison?

“I think my mom might have thought that, giving me Allison but never calling me that, but…no…I don’t think I will have a more serious version of myself. I’ve always wanted to go into business, but the thing is, I think I can flip a switch; I can be intense and competitive and serious, and I think that’s what also allows me to be silly.

“I think if you don’t know how to swing the pendulum, you’re not taken seriously, maybe. But…absolutely not, I cannot imagine me all of a sudden being super square!”

To catch each of these interviews, you can follow: @chris_brookes

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