Ali Riley Excited to Captain New Zealand at World Cup

Ali Riley NWSL mobile
Meg Oliphant / Contributor

Many soccer players never get a chance to play in a World Cup, let alone one in their home country. For Ali Riley, not only does she get to do both, but also serve as a captain when she suits up for New Zealand at this summer's spectacle.

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The 35-year-old has had a whirlwind 16-months after being traded to Angel City FC back in January 2022, just in time for their debut NWSL season. It just so happens she can once again play in her home city–just miles away from where she grew up–and lead a team looking to make an impact in a massive American market.

ONE37pm had the chance to sit down with Ali Riley as part of her partnership with Champs Sports after launching their "Game All Day, Every Day" campaign.

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Ali Riley making moves out on the pitch / Kevork Djansezian / Stringer

ONE37pm: Thanks so much for taking the time, Ali. Why was partnering with Champs so important for you ahead of this busy summer?

Riley: For me, I wear athleisure or sport clothing all the time. So to have the chance to do but still be glammed up and do fun content it made so much sense. I think for players like me we're getting into this space and it's a huge opportunity to grow our platform.

For me, being an Asian-American and playing in the World Cup with New Zealand I hope that the diversity and my unique path can be an inspiration to any little guys or anyone that wants to pursue this path.

ONE37pm: Being that it's a World Cup year, what does this whole journey mean to you having the chance to captain your country on home soil?

Riley: Until we play that first game I'm not sure I'll really grasp what this all means and the magnitude of it all. It's really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

To host a World Cup is really out of your control as a player, but I feel so lucky to play for a country that has the means and resources along with Australia to put together an amazing bid.

I see it as such a huge opportunity even with all the pressure. We're looking to make a difference in New Zealand to hopefully grow the game so that the future teams can be more diverse.

We want to see more girls playing soccer or picking up a ball after hosting the tournament. Hopefully it's not just watching the World Cup and that's the end of it.

ONE37pm: Along those same lines, New Zealand's playing in their fifth straight Women's World Cup. How special would it be to get the nation's first win in the tournament?

Riley: I really hope we do well. Like you said, we've never won a game at the World Cup, so to make history at home would be incredible and could really change the direction of women's soccer in New Zealand.

It could really kickstart something and we've seen it before with the U.S. women in 1999. Their growth over here has been really amazing and they've pulled a lot further ahead of us in New Zealand.

We want to leave a lasting impact that can matter in 50 or 100 years down the road.

ONE37pm: You're up to over 150 caps now with the national team, which is amazing. Looking back on it, did you ever envision this kind of success?

Riley: I really never imagined any of this honestly and that's what makes it so overwhelming. Now I think little girls growing up can dream about these moments and create plans for how they want to pursue their passions.

Everything won't always go according to plan, but I was lucky enough to have that seed planted when I saw the World Cup in 1999 here in LA.

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John Wolfsohn / Contributor

ONE37pm: It's your second season with Angel City now, so what has this stage of your career been like so far in LA?

Riley: It's the most amazing feeling being able to represent my city and being able to have my family come out to all our home games. That's kind of the dream being able to share these experiences with your loved ones.

As this league grows there will be more chances for players to experience what I am right now and that makes me really excited.

I'm so lucky to be able to share this with my family after playing in different parts of the country and around the world with clubs and the national team. It's all very surreal.

ONE37pm: With your unique opportunities to play here but also overseas, what are some of the biggest differences you've seen from playing domestically versus abroad?

Riley: When I went to play in Europe I was definitely the least technical person on my team. It got even harder as I progressed from Sweden to England to Germany, but that forced me to really focus and challenge myself against these amazing players.

Especially at Chelsea, I saw Millie Bright and Magdalena Eriksson up close and they're some of the toughest defenders I've ever seen. To play alongside them was really rewarding and then it was my first time where I was really a substitute.

I went through my most challenging times as an athlete because you have expectations to play every game and there's constant pressure to perform. I'd say it helped me become a better player and even more so a better teammate because it gave me great perspective.

ONE37pm: Just one final question, Ali. I know your social media presence is really taking off now, so have you considered what comes next after you decide it's time to hang up the boots?

Riley: I love being on camera and telling stories. I really enjoy making content and especially just feeling responsible for doing it around the struggles of women trying to make a life out of sports.

I think the fun side is always important, but we need to keep pushing to show the players for who we are and all the things we do as side hustles or anything off the pitch.

I'm not sure if the commentating side feels right for me but I want to stay involved in the game in a way that's lighthearted and also gives me a balance to also dive into those hard-hitting questions.

How do you think Ali Riley and her squad will do in the upcoming World Cup? Shoot us a message on Instagram @properfootball and let us know!

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