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Ali Riley Talks Her Return to the Us

Belo Horizonte, Brazil – August 6, 2016: New Zealand defeated Colombia 1-0 during group stage of the 2016 Olympic games at Mineirao Stadium.

After almost ten years playing abroad for FC Rosengård, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich, Ali Riley is returning to the United States as the newest member of Orlando Pride. Just Women’s Sports caught up with Riley to talk about her jetsetting decade, goals for the upcoming season, and why now is such an exciting moment for soccer in the United States.

You’ve played in the US, England, Sweden, and Germany. Can you talk a little bit about your journey?

It’s a pretty crazy story. I was drafted to play in the WPS [Women’s Professional Soccer League] out of college, almost ten years ago exactly, which is crazy. I don’t feel a day over twenty-two, so hopefully I still play that way. But when that league folded, the only opportunity I got was in Sweden with FC Rosengård. They needed a left back, so I went over there from training in Germany. I had one bag and no warm clothing. I just showed up, met this team, played a game a few days after I arrived, and then we won the Super Cup. It ended up being the most amazing thing that could’ve happened to me. FC Rosengård was an incredible team, and so I kept extending my contract, and Sweden became home.

How did you end up playing in England and Germany?

In 2018, I just felt like it was time for a change. I had a clause in my contract that I could leave, and Chelsea was interested. I went over there at the start of the English season and halfway through my last season in Sweden. But I injured my foot right as I arrived and was out for three and a half months. It ended up being plantar fasciitis, which was horrible. So though I loved the team, I never really got into a flow there. And after the World Cup, Bayern Munich needed a fullback. They saw me play and they were interested, so I had another amazing opportunity. Bayern Munich is another huge club and they were in a league that I had trained with before going to Sweden. I talked with Chelsea, and they were understanding of my situation.

Did you consider going back to Sweden?

Definitely. But I had a couple of conversations with the club in Sweden and they didn’t lead to an offer right away. Plus, after my experience in Chelsea, I was kind of like, I can handle anything. I was so hungry for a new experience, and the allure of playing at Bayern Munich was strong. The facilities, the resources, the talent on the field, the discipline, the technique – I was blown away. The facilities were built maybe two years ago, and they could compete with men’s facilities around England, at least, and I’m sure around the world. Driving in every morning gave me chills. It was so professional on the field.

The transition wasn’t perfect, though. The language was hard to pick up, and there were already two other fullbacks from the German National Team, which made it tough, but I loved the competition. Looking back, though, it was kind of a crazy decision.

So Sweden still feels like home?

Oh, yeah. I bought an apartment here. I met my partner. We want to settle down in Malmö, build our home here. We have a dog. I know Swedish. But as I was becoming more sure that Sweden is where I want to be in the future, I also started realizing that I don’t have a lot of time to see my family and friends in the US. So when Orland said they were interested, it was such amazing timing. It’s a fresh start for me at a club that wants to have a fresh start after coming last in the league last year. And there are faces that I’m very familiar with, both on the team and around the league. It just feels like it was meant to be.

Any nerves about returning to play in the US?

It’s never easy going to a new team. Even if I am American, you still feel like a little bit of an outsider. It really is like coming from overseas. I’ve gotten my Swedish passport and I have my New Zealand passport so I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I feel like a foreigner.” One thing that is always helpful is knowing someone on the team and having that comfort and family feeling. For me, Marta [Viera da Silva] has been a close friend. This will be the fourth team we’ve played on together, which is crazy. At my age, you don’t need everyone to like you, but it’s nice to have someone that feels like family.

What’re you most looking forward to in terms of coming back to the States?

My English has definitely gotten worse, so it’ll be good to improve my grammar again. But it will just be great to have so many familiar faces around and to be closer to my parents. Florida isn’t that close to LA, but it’s closer than Sweden. I’m also excited for the food and the lifestyle and the excitement around women’s football — or soccer, I need to say now — in the US. There will be so many opportunities off the field to be out in the community, do charity work, build my brand. All that is going to be much easier, and those are all things I’m passionate about. And the sun. I love the sun.

What’s got you excited to play for Orlando in particular?

I’ve heard so many good things about coach [Marc] Skinner from both people who have played for him and against him. Obviously things didn’t go as hoped last season. But I’ve spoken with Marc and I can hear how passionate and ambitious he is. That’s an environment I want to join. He isn’t satisfied with how the team did last year, and that’s kind of how I feel. I want to prove something, and so does he.

The fan base is also really impressive. That was one of the disappointing things in Germany and something that Sweden also struggled with a bit. But the numbers in the US are really impressive. I just think female soccer players are so unbelievable and so inspirational. It’s not just about soccer. It’s about balancing this passion and growing the game, while also inspiring people and living a balanced life. I think that’s why players like Ashlyn [Harris] and Ali [Kreiger] are sticking around, even though last season didn’t go that well. It’s still a really cool place to be.

Maybe I’m projecting, but do you think it will be tough once you’re back in the US to return to Sweden?

It’ll be tough, for sure. But I think that’s why I want to do it now. Play my best, give everything I can, and know that an amazing life is waiting for me in Sweden. I’ve learned a lot. I still feel like I’m the fittest I’ve ever been, and I’ve developed so much of my game from playing in these different countries and training with these players. I think I still have my style of play that made me successful in the WPS and college, but I’ve definitely developed in other areas. I’ve grown a lot mentally and emotionally. Honestly, after the experiences I’ve had in the last couple of seasons, I feel like I’m ready to take on the world.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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