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Angel City’s Ali Riley on ongoing toll of COVID: So many things we don’t know

Team captain spoke up after recent infection.

NJ/NY Gotham FC v Angel City FC Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ali Riley missed two games recently for Angel City FC due to being in COVID protocol, according to the official NWSL availability report. While many of us are vaccinated and boosted these days, enjoying the reemergence into society after being shut in for the better part of two years, periodic COVID surges are here to remind us that the virus has not disappeared yet.

That’s been seen around the NWSL, too, with essentially every team having players or coaches (or both) test positive and have to sit out, seemingly in rolling waves. And while we don’t know the number of people in the league who have tested positive and been asymptomatic, hearing from the likes of San Diego Wave FC coach Casey Stoney characterize her COVID infection as getting “hit like an absolute train” a couple weeks ago shows illness is still present in the league.

While talking to reporters on Wednesday, Riley discussed her recent COVID experience, and said thankfully she didn’t get too sick.

“I was really, really lucky that my experience was more like a head cold, which I think is a little bit of an anomaly. The other members of our ACFC family who who had it definitely had more like flu-like symptoms. I think Christen [Press] probably had a different experience than me,” said Riley.

Beyond players missing games, COVID has been in the news again this week in the sport of soccer after Lionel Messi revealed he has been dealing with Long COVID that has affected his lungs in recent months.

“I came back before I should have, and it got worse because I went too fast and it ended up setting me back,” he said as quoted in Marca on Tuesday.

“But I couldn’t take it anymore, I wanted to run, to train. I wanted to get going. And in the end, it got worse,” he added.

Riley said hearing about Messi’s struggles was a wake-up call of sorts.

“Especially seeing what Messi has gone out and said, I feel really lucky because as athletes when we depend so much on our bodies, and not so much like obviously missing games, being away from the team was really hard mentally. And it’s such a big part of our lives and then also to be worried that your body may not be able to recuperate, it’s scary,” she explained.

She also admitted while a lot has been learned about COVID over the past two-plus years, there’s still a lot we don’t know and for athletes, it’s still unknown waters in some respects.

“I think it’s something that we just have to continue to be aware of [in] all sports in order to take care of athletes because we’re always going to push ourselves as soon as we’re not going to contaminate other people,” Riley explained. “We’re like, ‘Okay, let’s get back out there’ and it’s something that’s new. So I think it’s a little bit different than other colds where we know that you’ll see just a steady improvement over a short period of time. And I think to push players to come back, when maybe you need a break, these are things that I think we’re just all going to have to take care of. And I felt very taken care of, at this club in terms of monitoring everything.”

Angel City are gearing up to play the Portland Thorns for the first time this regular season on Friday in Portland, and Riley, Angel City’s captain now back in the XI for Freya Coombe’s team, made a worthwhile connection between players speaking up to advocate for themselves in all manner of ways to those willing to speak up about the problems they have faced due to COVID.

“It sucks and honestly it feels like you can get it no matter how careful you are. And if you’re not careful, you might not get it, there’s so many things we don’t know,” she said. “But I think it’s really good, like along with so many things that athletes are doing in terms of being outspoken about their experiences because it is hard to be vulnerable. It’s hard to be to share intimate details of your personal life and your health but I think it’s another kind of sort of pride to see how athletes are speaking up about their experiences to make sure that other athletes are protected.”

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