The date is August 8th 2012, and the US Women’s national team has just won an Olympic Gold Medal thanks to a 2-1 win over Japan in front of 80,000 people at London’s Wembley Stadium. One player who stood on the podium, with medal proudly round her neck, was current Arsenal forward, Heather O’Reilly.
The former US international will be remembered for that tournament for the ball served into the box for Alex Morgan in the semi-final at Manchester United’s Old Trafford, to clinch ‘the game of the decade’ 4-3 in injury time of extra time.
That cross according to O’Reilly, “is one of my proudest plays in my career,” and erased any fears of a repeat penalty shootout defeat that the US suffered against Japan one year earlier.
Now, with her current club Arsenal, the former FC Kansas City and Boston Breakers forward returns to the scene of her country’s 2012 triumph when her team takes on Chelsea on Saturday in the Women’s FA Cup Final. Although she was an unused sub in the Gold Medal match almost six years ago, O’Reilly has fond memories of her previous visit to the ‘home of football.’
“I remember it being loud. I remember it being packed,” she said. “I vividly remember Hope Solo making unbelievable saves throughout the match to keep us in it, Pearcie (Christie Rampone) clearing one off the line, and Carli Lloyd with a superb header, and later an individual effort where she cut though the Japanese midfield and defense and struck one into the side netting.”
Arsenal had to rely on a late header from Ireland international Louise Quinn to give them a 2-1 win over Everton in the semi-finals of this year’s FA Cup, but O’Reilly was influential throughout and grabbed an assist for her side’s first goal, which was finished by forward Danielle Carter.
The appearance at Wembley will provide a much-needed highlight for an Arsenal side that have had an up and down season that has seen a head coach change, and probably failure to qualify for the Champions League for a fifth successive season. But with an abundance of talent on their roster including four members of the Netherlands team that won the European Championships last year, O’Reilly said preparation has been good heading into this weekend’s final, albeit it different to her last Wembley experience.
“There is a bit more of a traditional aspect to the FA Cup final. Like being part of English football history rather than the Olympics, which was a one off huge event. Preparation is always the same – focused but loose – it has been done for months.”
If O’Reilly’s side can claim victory and climb the famous 107 steps to the Royal Box where the trophy will be presented, she will be the second American in a year to claim a medal, following in the footsteps of Carli Lloyd, who won the competition with Manchester City last year. American teammate Daphne Corboz was not involved in the match.
‘HAO’, simply can’t wait to get out there.
“Since I have been here in England the last year and a half, I have really wanted to get back to Wembley. Although I will be in a different kit, with different teammates than in 2012, it’s still football. It’s the game I love in a stadium that is very special.”
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