Pride Swoop For Central Defender Ali Riley
Updated: Jun 1
On Monday (10th February), the Orlando Pride moved to sign defender Ali Riley from European giants FC Bayern Munchen. The signing of New Zealand captain Riley is another significant addition to an Orlando back line that shipped 53 goals in 2019. Allocation money was used to acquire Riley from Bayern, and she joins the Pride on a one year contract that has the option for a further year. Riley was something of a bit part player for the German clun, featuring 3 times since joining in July of 2019. Prior to that she plied her trade for Chelsea in the FAWSL, chalking up 9 appearances for the West London club. She also had very successful stints in the Swedish Damallsvenskan Ldb FC Malmo/FC Rosengard and in the WPS with Gold Pride FC and the Western New York Flash. Riley can operate at both outside back and in the centre of defence, adding depth across a number of positions for Pride head coach Marc Skinner.
Riley began her professional career in the United States in the WPS with FC Gold Pride, where the defender won the Rookie of the Year award. Riley then moved on to the Western New York Flash where she plied her trade alongside Ashlyn Harris and Alex Morgan as the club wrapped up the 2011 championship title. She also played alongside the GOAT (like I really have to point out who that is, right?) at FC Gold Pride, the Flash and in Sweden at FC Rosengard. Riley's spell in Sweden was by far the most successful of her career, she spent 7 years of her career at FC Rosengard (who were formerly know as Ldb FC Malmo). Riley made 132 appearances for the club, scoring 4 goals and winning 3 league championships.
Whilst Riley may have struggled for the last two seasons to adapt to life in England and Germany, she has a wealth of experience that will only serve to improve a Pride defence that all too often folded like a pack of cards when up against it in 2019. Riley will bring a winning mentality and a mental fortitude that will go some way to helping develop a culture of leadership within the squad. This is something Marc Skinner has spoken to on more than one occasion. Riley has captained the Football Ferns (New Zealand women's national team) since the 2017 Cyprus Cup, and featured in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. It's very clear that Riley brings a wealth of experience and perhaps most importantly a knowledge of how to win. She won 2 league titles in the WPS and three championships with Rosengard. She has also featured for arguably two of the biggest clubs in Europe in FC Bayern and Chelsea. Whilst she may have struggled to make a huge impact on the field for those clubs she will bring vital experience of having worked in a winning culture, which she will hopefully be able to help develop in Orlando.
Overall, I think this is a positive move by the Pride. The outside back positions (or full-back) are arguably where the Pride are at their weakest. Riley primarily operates on the right hand side of a back 4, and with Ali Krieger often turning out at centre back for both the Pride and USWNT it will be interesting to see if that position becomes the world cup winners' permanent home. The signing of Riley also creates vital competition for the likes of Erin Greening. The young defender finished her rookie season strongly and having someone of the stature of Riley around to learn from and to push her, can only be a good thing for Orlando. The Pride's depth chart also looks a lot healthier with her signing. My guess is that the back 4 will look a little something like the line-up depicted in the graphic below. We will also have the likes of Alanna Kennedy, Morgan Reid, Toni Pressley and Shelina Zadorsky in reserve. That being said, you do start to wonder if any of these players will be cut or traded away once the players are back in camp.
Riley is a player that will bring a lot of energy to the Pride both on and off the pitch. One quick glance at her Twitter account, shows that she seems to be exactly the sort of contagious and energetic personality that will fit in well with this team (link below). She already has pre-existing relationships with key members of the Pride dressing room, and you feel like she will fit in well to the culture the Pride are trying to build. Current Pride GM Erik Ustruck said as much at her unveiling in comments he provided to Pro Soccer USA:
“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.” https://www.prosoccerusa.com/nwsl/orlando-pride/orlando-pride-sign-new-zealand-defender-ali-riley-to-bolster-backline/
The one major drawback of this signing is, of course, the fact that Riley is yet another international defender (although she does not take up an international roster spot, due to her being born and raised in California). The Tokyo Olympics are this summer, so Riley's signing means that as many as 5 Pride defenders could be spending a few weeks in Japan this summer. An already international heavy squad was decimated during last year's world cup, and there is a very real danger the same could happen again this year. That being said, the signing of Riley is still a great bit of business by the club. It represents, in my opinion, a positive statement of intent. This signing tells me that Skinner wants his side to be difficult to beat, which is the first step in building any successful team. Vamos!