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North Carolina Courage acquire Heather O’Reilly after trade with Utah

(Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Former United States women’s national team midfielder Heather O’Reilly will soon join the North Carolina Courage, as first reported by WRAL’s Neil Morris.

The National Women’s Soccer League rights to O’Reilly made their way to North Carolina in a trade with the Utah Royals, who acquired them when assuming all contracts and player rights of the former FC Kansas City franchise. North Carolina receives O’Reilly and a natural second-round pick in the 2019 NWSL College Draft from Utah in exchange for Makenzy Doniak and a 2019 natural third-round pick.

O’Reilly, 33, last played in the NWSL in 2016, her second season with FC Kansas City after helping the team win a championship in 2015. She moved abroad to Arsenal in January 2017. Utah — by way of Kansas City — retained O’Reilly’s rights as part of the complicated structure of the NWSL’s roster rules.

The addition of O’Reilly gives North Carolina a veteran option with pace out wide, adding a new wrinkle to a team which is already 11 points clear at the top of the table and on track to with the Shield comfortably. North Carolina’s typical system is a narrow one with free roles in the midfield that almost make for four central midfielders. O’Reilly made her living as a winger, accumulating 231 caps for the U.S. and winning three Olympics gold medals and a World Cup title before retiring from international play in September 2016.

“Heather is a massive addition to our squad,” Courage head coach Paul Riley said. “Her temperament, work ethic, experience, skill and ability will enable her to make an immediate impact in Courage Country. Excited to finally coach her and I look forward to the positivity, influence and charisma she brings to every locker room. Every team in NWSL is getting stronger and it’s important we continue to grow, move forward and improve our performances. I think Heather adds to our style and culture and I know she will be very popular with our fan base.”

O’Reilly’s contract with Arsenal expired in May. There, she scored four goals in 38 matches and helped the club reach the 2018 FA Cup Final.

She has had a home in North Carolina for several years, and she made her name there, helping the University of North Carolina win national championships in 2003 and 2006. Bringing O’Reilly into the fold was part of the plan since owner Steve Malik purchased the Western New York Flash and relocated the team to North Carolina in January 2017, according to club president and GM Curt Johnson.

“The idea of bringing Heather back to North Carolina has been important to Steve and I since our first conversation about purchasing the Flash,” he said. “It has been important to us because we know it’s something Courage fans are passionate about. We are thrilled to add her to this great group and continue to build the strongest organization possible on and off the field.”

Doniak will be an investment for the future for Utah. The versatile 24-year-old suffered a torn left ACL on the first day of preseason in 2018, ending her campaign before it started.

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