The Orlando Pride continued rebuilding the back line with the acquisition of New Zealand captain Ali Riley from Bayern Munich. The Pride used NWSL allocation money to acquire and sign Riley, adding another international player to a back line that already includes Emily Sonnett (USA), Ali Krieger (USA), Shelina Zadorsky (Canada), and sometimes Alanna Kennedy (Australia).
“We’re delighted to finally come to terms with Ali and Bayern, who we’d also like to thank in making this deal happen,” Orlando Pride General Manager Erik Ustruck said in a club press release. “We targeted Ali last year and were unable to come to terms, but with the new allocation money, it has provided more roster flexibility and allowed us to go after additional players that historically haven’t been available to the NWSL.”
“I heard really great things [about Orlando] from an old friend of mine, Marta, and I also have a lot of respect for [Head Coach] Marc [Skinner] and seeing how his teams play,” Riley said in the club’s release. “I think all around — this league, this country, the interest of the women’s game and the growth of this sport, the attention from the media and the fans — it’s something I want to be a part of. I hope both the mentality and attitude I bring, but also the technical ability and the learning I’ve had playing at some of the best teams in the world, will help bring a little more confidence and a little bit of something different to contribute to a better season this year.”
Riley, 32, played three matches with Bayern last year after being acquired in July. Prior to joining Bayern Munich, she spent a year with Chelsea FC Women of England’s Women’s Super League (WSL), where she totaled nine appearances. In 2019, Riley appeared in her fourth FIFA Women’s World Cup for New Zealand, playing every minute of the Football Ferns’ three matches in the tournament.
Before her time at Chelsea, Riley spent seven seasons at FC Rosengård of the Damallsvenskan, Sweden’s highest division of women’s soccer. She was a three-time league champion with Rosengård, making 132 appearances and scoring four goals.
Riley has 132 caps with New Zealand, making her senior national team debut back on Feb. 6, 2007. She has represented her country at three Olympics as well. New Zealand will participate in this summer’s Olympics in Japan after winning the 2018 Oceania Football Confederation championship over Fiji, 8-0.
“From an on-field standpoint, Ali solidifies and improves our back line heading into 2020, which was a key area of improvement for us this off-season,” Ustruck said. “She provides many things we are looking to add to the team: experience, both domestically and internationally, additional energy to our outside back position, and is a perfect fit to the culture we’ve worked to establish over the last year.”
Riley has previous experience playing in the United States, having played in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS). She made 24 appearances for FC Gold Pride in 2010 and 16 appearances for the Western New York Flash in 2011, winning the league in both seasons. After the WPS ceased operations, Riley joined LdB FC Malmo, which was later renamed to FC Rosengård.
The fullback comes to Orlando with ties to the current Pride team, having played with Marta at FC Gold Pride, Western New York, and FC Rosengård. She was also a teammate of Pride captain Ashlyn Harris and Alex Morgan on the 2011 Flash championship side.
Riley played college soccer at Stanford University, where she made 83 appearances and scored seven goals, and was an all-conference first-team selection her senior year.
What it Means for Orlando
First and foremost, Riley won’t require an international slot, as she was born in Los Angeles. The Pride clearly are aiming to improve the defensive side of the ball this off-season after the acquisitions of Riley and Sonnett, who appear likely to play outside of Krieger and Zadorsky unless further changes are made. Unfortunately, all four of those players will miss a chunk of the NWSL season for the Olympics.
The Pride currently have a lot of players on defense and some of them will likely not be with the team when the season starts. In addition to Riley, Sonnett, Krieger, Zadorsky, and Kennedy — who can also play in the midfield — the Pride has Erin Greening, Carson Pickett, Toni Pressley, Morgan Reid, and Supplemental Player Carrie Lawrence. With Sonnett and Riley joining the team, it seems that will mean reduced roles for Greening and Pickett or one could be moved to shore up another position.
Additionally, the Pride drafted defenders Courtney Petersen, Konya Plummer, Phoebe McClernon, and Cheyenne Shorts through the 2020 NWSL College Draft, along with Abi Kim, who many feel could be converted to fullback. With the current players Orlando has, it seems unlikely all of the defenders drafted will be signed, but there may be opportunities as National Team Replacement Players.
All of the above said, there has yet to be an announcement about Krieger, who was offered a new contract at the end of the 2019 season. So far, only Marta has signed a new contract of those who were offered new deals at the end of 2019 (Krieger, Pickett, Emily van Egmond, and Kristen Edmonds, who has often played fullback). While Krieger is expected back — and could potentially become a federally allocated player — nothing is set in stone yet on that front.
The Pride have a lot of bodies for the back line. There are far too many for all of them to be in Orlando this year, especially if the draftees are offered contracts. The back line again figures to be dreadfully overmatched when the internationals are away at the Olympics. But at least the Pride are trying to address the team’s defensive shortcomings this off-season.
Riley can also play in the midfield, so Skinner has some flexibility in how to utilize his new player, but with Ustruck specifically mentioning outside back, it seems to give a clue as to how the club views her role. She also brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the Pride locker room, which can only help.