It’s a little more than four months from the start of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. But Ali Riley’s got a lot of soccer to play between now and then. In less than two months, she makes her debut for the expansion Western New York Flash of Women’s Professional Soccer. But Riley’s 2011 soccer season actually begins in 10 days. She’s heading overseas to compete in the 2011 Cyprus Cup with the New Zealand Women’s National Team.
Riley caught up with Our Game Magazine last week. She leaves Wednesday for Cyprus where New Zealand will open the tournament March 2 against Holland. This is Riley’s third Cyprus Cup. She’s playing on a New Zealand team that won its second straight OFC Women’s championship this past fall. The win qualified New Zealand for its second straight World Cup. Riley feels this year’s team will fare better than it did in 2007 when it was bounced out of the World Cup in the group stage. That year’s team was outscored 9-0 in its three games in a group that included Brazil, Denmark, and China. This year in the World Cup, New Zealand is grouped with England, Japan, and Mexico. Both England and Mexico are also playing in the Cyprus Cup.
“I think this year’s World Cup is going to be exciting because so many teams have improved from three years ago,” Riley said. “(We) have a lot of young players who’ve gotten a lot of experience since then. A lot of them are coming from the 2006 U-20 World Cup in Russia. I think we’re going to be more competitive and a lot more confident. We know what to expect. We’ve been playing a lot more international matches since then, and we have more experience.”
In Cyprus, New Zealand is in Group 2 with France, Holland, and Switzerland. The tournament also features Canada, England, Italy, and Scotland in Group 1 and Russia, North Korea, Northern Ireland, and Mexico in Group 3.
“It’s such a fun tournament,” Riley said. “So many of us know each other from playing in WPS. It’s fun to see each other. It’ll be good to see where we need to be in a couple months.”
Riley said that New Zealand practices throughout the year, oftentimes four to five times a week. After the Cyprus Cup, Riley will return March 12, landing in Buffalo to begin training with the Western New York Flash. She’ll rejoin New Zealand in May.
“So many girls work so hard day in and day out and haven’t gotten the opportunity to play professionally,” Riley said, noting that the team from top to bottom is loaded with talent, including defender Rebecca Smith, who plays in Bundesliga for Vfl Wolfsburg, Riley’s former Pali Blues teammate, midfielder Kirsty Yallop, and center midfielder Katie Hoyle. “It’s such a fun team to be on. Soccer’s a sport where you never know what’s going to happen. Teams are getting better and better. It’s kind of good to be the underdog. We’ll try to surprise people.”
In the next installment, Riley talks about the upcoming WPS season, joining a number of her former Gold Pride teammates in Western New York, and having to go 1 v 1 against one of her best friends and former Gold Pride and Stanford teammate Kelley O’Hara (Boston Breakers).