Ali Riley’s L.A. soccer homecoming continues with New Zealand’s match vs. U.S.

Ali Riley is shown playing for New Zealand at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Ali Riley, shown playing for New Zealand at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, was acquired last month by Angel City FC, Los Angeles’ new team in the NWSL. The 34-year-old starred in high school at Harvard-Westlake.
(Ricardo Mazalan / Associated Press)

When Angel City approached Ali Riley last month and asked whether she’d like to continue her soccer career at home in Southern California, they really didn’t intend for her to move back into her parents’ house.

Yet that’s exactly where she woke up on the day the team opened training camp at Pepperdine University, 11 miles from where she went to elementary school in Pacific Palisades.

“They keep me very humble,” Riley, a defender and four-time World Cup player, said of her parents. “I have to do my dishes and bring the paper in. I’ve been helping, taking the trash from the house to the cans.


“That adds a whole other weird dimension to it. It feels like I’m in high school.”

The homecoming will take another strange twist Sunday when Riley captains New Zealand in the SheBelieves Cup at Dignity Health Sports Park. It will be her first game in Southern California since she turned pro, and it will be against the United States, the team she cheered for as a child and the one that inspired her choice of careers.

“I went to the 1999 World Cup final, and I was like, ‘I want to play soccer,’ ” she said.

The USWNT kicked off the SheBelieves Cup with a scoreless draw with the Czech Republic on Thursday in Carson.

Whether she could do that was never an issue. Riley was a standout player at Studio City Harvard-Westlake, with local youth clubs and at Stanford. The bigger question was where she would do that.

The U.S. was well-stocked with stars when she entered college, so playing for the national team “wasn’t even an option,” she said. But because her father, John, was born in New Zealand, a country Riley visited regularly as a girl, she was eligible to play there. When the Kiwis invited her to join their U-20 team, she jumped at the chance, and a year later, as a teenager, she was playing for the senior team in the first of four World Cups.

Trying to find a club team was far more challenging. Riley had hoped to stay home and play alongside Brazilian legend Marta with the Los Angeles Sol, but the team played its last game in 2009, the year she graduated from Stanford.

Three years later, the league folded, leaving Riley bouncing between clubs in Sweden, England, Germany and Florida.

After the domestic National Women’s Soccer League was formed in 2012, then expanded, there was always talk of a franchise in Southern California. But nothing materialized until Angel City’s sprawling ownership group of Hollywood celebrities and former national team players took up the challenge, putting a team at Banc of California Stadium.

The USWNT kicks off SheBelieves Cup on Thursday against Czech Republic, with young players such as Ashley Hatch using the tournament as a tryout for a recurring role on the team.

For Riley, who, at 34, is closer to the end of her career than the start, that was a game-changer.

“This is like, I can’t say a dream come true because it’s not even a dream I knew I could have. There hasn’t been a team here,” she said. “Now, for little girls all over the city to be able to come to our games and have that moment, that’s everything.”

Angel City makes it debut next month. First comes Sunday’s match, Riley’s 142nd with New Zealand and her first in Southern California. Only two women have played more, and only three have worn the captain’s armband as often.

Tobin Heath (7) of the U.S. controls the ball against New Zealand's Ali Riley during a match at the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Tobin Heath, left, of the U.S. controls the ball against New Zealand’s Ali Riley during a match at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
(Martin Mejia / Associated Press)

Many of those other games have taken place on distant continents. This one will be played 25 miles from Pacific Palisades.

“My parents, they’ve followed me. They’ve been to Samoa. They’ve been to Russia. They’ve been all over the place,” Riley said. “And to kind of bring the soccer to them, I hope it makes them proud. I hope it makes them excited.”

Fatma Al-Nuaimi, the executive communications director of the Organizing Committee of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, talks about the tournament.

Next year, she’ll head to New Zealand for a different kind of homecoming when the country co-hosts the Women’s World Cup alongside Australia. That will mark another milestone in Riley’s globetrotting career because it will be her fifth World Cup. Only two women have played in more.

“The team culture we have is so important to us. It feels almost spiritual, our connection to each other and to the country,” said Riley, who has a large extended family in New Zealand. “Being from Los Angeles and having those kinds of ties to my team and a place that I have never lived in, I think that says a lot about the environment.”

“First stop on my retirement tour,” she added “will be like three weeks, a month in New Zealand. I want to experience more of being in the country.”

First, she’ll get to experience playing the game just a few miles from where she grew up. Who says you can’t go home again?