The U.S. Women’s National Team has been blessed with some of the best players in the world. Today, one of the greatest announced her retirement from the international stage. Heather O’Reilly made her senior team debut when she was 17 years old. Now at 31, she feels it is the right time to go from USWNT star to fan.
15 Years. 230 Caps. 133,322 minutes. 46 Goals. 54 Assists. Three Olympics. Three Gold Medals. Three World Cups. 2015 World Cup Champion. Undefeated all-time ‘Beep Test’ Champion.
Those numbers are incredible by any standard, but nearly an afterthought when thinking about HAO’s greatness. They are a byproduct of what happens when a player with talent commits to giving 100% every time she touches the field.
“She is a player that will give her all. She will run and cover every inch of the field by putting in her best effort for the team and doing what she does to help the team win. I think that sometimes goes unnoticed,” said former USWNT and current FC Kansas City teammate Nicole Barnhart.
Becky Sauerbrunn has competed with, and against, HAO at nearly every level of the game. “I can’t get rid of her, but I don’t want to,” joked the FCKC and USWNT captain. “…we’ve known each other since we were 16. We’ve been competitors in college, we’ve played together, we’ve been competitors professionally and played together professionally. It’s fun to have run the gamut with her, and I’m going to treasure these last few years playing professionally just because I am with her all the time now. I love the girl. She’s one of the closest friends I’ve ever had on the field and off the playing field.”
One of the things that fans seem to love about O’Reilly is her friendly and light attitude off the field, but her determination on the field. Fans have coined the phrase “HAO-Face” to describe the twisted expression so often found as she runs on the field.
Sauerbrunn says, “That’s what makes her HAO. She does not give up on a play ever in practice or a game. She will try to make every run and every tackle because she knows that it just takes one second to score a goal or have an assist.”
O’Reilly’s strengths were not lost on Vlatko Andonovski. FCKC’s head coach talked about the decision to bring her to Kansas City…a decision that was made mere hours after the team captured the 2014 NWSL Championship.
“…I still remember the day and the place. We were sitting in a Buffalo Wild Wings in Seattle talking to these people and I said, ‘That’s the person we need to win it again’…Psychologically, it’s hard to win and then even harder to win back-to-back. We needed the drive, the desire and someone to push us through. No one can do that better than HAO. That is the main reason why we brought her here, and she accomplished the mission 100%.”
Her final game in a U.S. Soccer uniform will be September 15th against Thailand, and she will also finish out the season for FC Kansas City. Asked why she isn’t walking away completely, her reply was light-hearted and to the point but delivered with the same intensity and resolve as if she was driving towards a game-winning goal.
“Quite simply, I love this game a lot. I love playing this sport…there aren’t many places I’d rather be than on a soccer field.”
Fans will remember her 2012 cross to Alex Morgan in the 2012 Olympics, or the game-winning goal against Germany in the 2004 Olympics. Some will even remember the amazing goal she scored in the pool play of the 2011 World Cup against Colombia that rocketed off her foot from 40 yards out and curled right over everyone to find the far upper corner of the net.
When asked about how she wants to be remembered though, her preferences resemble her playing style much more than her highlight reel.
“If I was remembered, I would want it to be for being a good teammate, working my ass off for my teams, being part of a lot of winning teams and doing things the right way. If I was able to be remembered for that, I would be very proud.”
Be proud HAO. You’ve earned it.