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2021 Orlando Pride Season in Review: Ali Riley

The right back did well in her first full season with the Pride.

NWSL: National Women’s Soccer League-NJ/NY Gotham FC at Orlando Pride Bernie Walls-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Pride signed defender Ali Riley from FC Bayern Munich prior to the 2020 season. Riley signed a one-year contract with an option for an additional year. After the 2020 season was lost to the pandemic, the 34-year-old right back started the majority of the Pride’s games in 2021. The New Zealand captain was a key part of the back line, even though she missed time to compete in the Olympics.

Let’s take a look back at Riley’s first full season as a member of the Pride.

Statistical Breakdown

Riley made her debut for the Pride in the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup. She started at left back in all four games, playing a total of 360 minutes. Defensively, Riley recorded 16 clearances and eight interceptions. She was successful in eight of her 10 tackles (80%), 15 of her 28 duels (53.6%), and one of her four aerial duels (25%).

Offensively, Riley successfully completed 90 of her 125 passes (72%) and 15 of her 30 long passes (50%) in the tournament. As you would expect from a defender, most of her passes (60.8%) were forward, and she made two key passes. She did not score a goal or assist on one.

After missing the first regular season game against the Washington Spirit, Riley became the starting right back, playing 16 of her 20 games (18 starts) at that position. Despite missing three games to take part in the Olympics, Riley recorded 1,556 minutes. She did not score or assist on a goal in the regular season.

Riley ended the regular season with 39 clearances, five blocks, and 19 interceptions. She won 22 of her 31 tackles (71%), 55 of 107 duels (51.4%), and 10 of 24 aerial duels (41.7%).

The right back was frequently involved in the attack, successfully completing 491 of her 652 pass attempts (75.3%), but only 28 of her 81 long passes (34.6%). She had 11 successful crosses and 10 key passes.

Additionally, Riley drew 10 fouls, was called for six, and was booked twice (both yellow).

Best Game

Riley was arguably the Pride’s best defender before departing for the Olympics. She improved as the season went on and she got used to playing right back next to Ali Krieger. In fact, her best game of the year came on July 9 in a 1-1 draw against Racing Louisville FC, her final game before the Olympic break.

The right back’s 56 touches weren’t as many as other games, but she was impactful on both sides of the ball. Defensively, she won five tackles and drew two fouls. She committed one foul, but it wasn’t in a dangerous part of the field.

Offensively, Riley nearly had a huge impact. The Pride trailed 1-0 in the 82nd minute when the right back beat Emily Fox on the right side. Her first cross was low and blocked right back to her. She didn’t make a mistake on the second, sending a floating ball to the back post. The ball found the head of an open Sydney Leroux, but the forward couldn’t get the power on it to beat Michelle Betos.

As time wound down, Riley was the force that pushed the Pride forward for an equalizer. While she wasn’t involved in the winner, she helped the team keep the ball in the opposing third by winning any balls that got near midfield.

Leroux didn’t get on the end of Riley’s earlier cross, but she did put Ashlyn Harris’ late long ball past Betos for the equalizing goal as the Pride pulled out a last-minute draw.

2021 Final Grade

The Mane Land staff gave Riley a composite grade of 6.5 in all competitions. She had a positive impact on offense and defense, while playing both right back and left back throughout the year.

The staff felt that her grade likely would’ve been higher prior to the Olympics when she was playing her best soccer. There was a little more inconsistency from her after the Olympics and some games where she didn’t have the same impact. However, she was one of the best players on the team this year, which is what the Pride were hoping for when they signed the veteran.

2022 Outlook

Riley signed a one-year contract on Feb. 10, 2020 and the Pride picked up her option for 2021. That leaves the right back out of contract heading into 2022. While she was one of the best players for the Pride this year, she’s 34 years old and the team already has an aging core.

Making things more complicated is that the Pride will be bringing in a new head coach to replace Becky Burleigh. If the new coach attempts to build on the current team, Riley will likely be back. However, if the new coach decides to build a younger team, it could result in Riley’s departure.


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