The Orlando Pride continued to strengthen their backline with the addition of New Zealand national team defender Ali Riley.
Orlando Pride general manager Erik Ustruck said the team initially targeted Riley in 2019, but was unable to make a deal with her previous club of FC Bayern Munich in Germany. The addition of allocation money to the NWSL this year allowed the Pride to strike a deal, Ustruck said.
After being acquired through allocation money, the defender will join the Pride on a one-year contract with an additional one-year option. As a native of Los Angeles, Calif., she will not occupy an international slot on the roster.
“From an on-field standpoint, Ali solidifies and improves our backline heading into 2020, which was a key area of improvement for us this offseason,” 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 tallied three appearances for Bayern Munich last year after spending a year with Chelsea FC in the English WSL. At 32, she has appeared in four FIFA World Cups for New Zealand, playing the entirety of all three World Cup matches for the team in 2019. As captain for the Ferns, she has earned 132 total caps in her international career since making her senior team debut in 2007. In addition to her World Cup experience, she has played in three Olympics for New Zealand. Her current national team coach is former Orlando Pride coach Tom Sermanni.
The defender spent seven seasons of her club career with FC Rosengård of the Damallsvenskan, the top flight of Swedish women’s soccer. She won three league titles and scored four goals during 132 appearances with FC Rosengård, where she played alongside Pride midfielder Marta for three seasons.
The pair has an extensive history as teammates, also playing alongside one another with FC Gold Pride and the Western New York Flash in the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league. After the league dissolved, Riley moved to FC Rosengård, where Marta eventually joined her to win a league title and cup together.
Riley said Marta’s experience in Orlando played a part in her decision to join the Pride.
“I heard really great things [about Orlando] from an old friend of mine, Marta, and I also have a lot of respect for [coach] Marc [Skinner] and seeing how his teams play,” Riley said. “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 learnings 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 will be a familiar teammate for several other current members of the Pride. She played alongside captain Ashlyn Harris and Alex Morgan on the Western New York Flash team that won the 2011 WPS championship.
Riley will join a back line that suffered greatly from absences throughout the 2019 season, allowing a league-worst 53 goals. International duty tugged away three of the defensive starters — defenders Shelina Zadorsky and Ali Krieger and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris — while a cancer diagnosis sidelined defender Toni Pressley for the latter half of the season.
The Pride added U.S. national team defender Emily Sonnett to its defensive lineup through a trade for the No. 1 pick in the NWSL draft during the offseason. The addition of Riley means the Pride could field a full national team lineup on defense. However, it also means five of the team’s defenders could be called away for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.