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HAO signs with Arsenal; NWSL future in flux

New Arsenal Ladies signing Heather O'Reilly with coach Pedro Martinez Losa.

New Arsenal Ladies signing Heather O'Reilly with coach Pedro Martinez Losa.

New Arsenal Ladies signing Heather O’Reilly with coach Pedro Martinez Losa.

Arsenal Ladies officially announced Heather O’Reilly on Wednesday and her future in NWSL is very much up in the air. The recently retired U.S. star was originally thought to be heading to the FAWSL on a short-term move but Arsenal now hold her contract and the 32-year old said she intends to put her all into the new venture. Her first match as a Gunner is expected to be Kelly Smith’s farewell match on February 19.

“For now, I want to commit myself fully to this new environment,” O’Reilly said in an FC Kansas City release. “This is a personal and professional opportunity that I could not pass up. I have always dreamed of playing in Europe, and Arsenal is a club that has a tradition of excellence that I think is really special.”

In a story about the signing, ESPNW’s Graham Hays stated the contract is for 18 months. For the last four years, O’Reilly was allocated to NWSL by U.S. Soccer. That arrangement ended with her retirement and FC Kansas City maintained her rights. However she never signed a contract there, allowing her to move to England.

{ON THE MOVE: Alex Morgan to Lyon | Crystal Dunn to Chelsea}

“HAO is one of the most incredible players that I’ve been around. Losing her at the beginning of the season won’t be easy, but I think at this point in her career it is the best thing for her,” FC Kansas City head coach Vlatko Andonovski said. Those comments appear to leave the door open for O’Reilly to play for the club at some point in 2017.

“I will have conversations about my potential future in the NWSL when those conversations need to happen,” O’Reilly’s statement said. “Good luck to FCKC as they begin their campaign to win another championship.”

O’Reilly joins Alex Morgan (Lyon) and Crystal Dunn (Chelsea) as prominent NWSL players heading to Europe. All three have taken different tones upon announcing their moves. Morgan expressed a full commitment to Orlando and is due back in June. Dunn was specific about not playing in NWSL this season. O’Reilly has left the door open.

Arsenal are currently out of season as FAWSL transitions back to a fall-spring schedule. To bridge the gap the clubs will play an abbreviated Spring schedule plus the FA Cup. Arsenal Ladies are FA Cup holders. The club last won FAWSL in 2012.

Arsenal manager Pedro Martinez Losa, once a Western New York Flash assistant said: “She is a world class player and one of the most respected players in the US.”

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