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Kelley O’Hara announces retirement, leaving a USWNT, NWSL legacy

USWNT and NWSL defender Kelley O’Hara announced her retirement on Thursday, marking the end of a storied career

Mar 24, 2024; Portland, Oregon, USA; NJ/NY Gotham FC defender Kelley O'Hara (5) controls the ball during the first half against the Portland Thorns FC at Providence Park. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” That was Kelley O’Hara’s message to her fans in a retirement video announcement with Just Women’s Sports. All good things must come to an end, including the two-time National Women’s Soccer League champion, Olympic gold medalist, and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion’s career.

As the decorated defender wraps up her professional career, she is grateful for the journey, and specifically, she is grateful to go out on her own terms with NJ/NY Gotham FC.

“It feels like everything that happened in my career was meant to be,” O’Hara exclusively told The Equalizer. “It’s really crazy that I’m going to end my career in New York/New Jersey with this club that I started my NWSL days with, and to see it in such a different place, too.”

O’Hara had never expected to find herself back with Sky Blue FC, now Gotham, her first NWSL team. For the NWSL “OG,” it just feels right that she would wrap up her illustrious career back where it all began.

“It makes you think that this is exactly how it’s supposed to go,” O’Hara remarked.

Between the fight for equal pay with the U.S. women’s national team and the implementation of the NWSL’s first-ever collective bargaining agreement, O’Hara has left her mark on women’s soccer, both on and off the field. As she finishes out these final months, the 35-year-old can truly say she’s leaving U.S. soccer in a better place than she found it.

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O’Hara is humble about her accomplishments, which she achieved along with her teammates both internationally and domestically. She is proud of the work they’ve put in, but knows this is just the beginning. Even with her retirement imminent, she still feels a responsibility to keep pushing the game forward, building upon the decade plus of her work as a player.

“I’m proud of the work that we were able to do and the things that we were able to accomplishment, the hurdles we were able to get over and the place that we’ve brought the U.S. national team and the NWSL and women’s soccer and sports in general to the place it’s at now,” O’Hara said. “There’s so much more work to be done and I am very aware of that, which is why I want to stay as close as I can and continue to impact the game and hopefully make as much change, if not more, outside of the game, even without being a player.”

As O’Hara explores her post-playing opportunities, she is still fully focused on this NWSL season, and potentially bringing one more championship to Gotham.

”That’s always the goal!” O’Hara said with a laugh. “Even at training, I’m trying to win – whatever it is, I’m trying to win. If there’s a championship on the line, I’m trying to win that, but I also know how difficult it is to do that because I’ve done it before. I know what it takes. That would be amazing, but I’m just thankful to get one last year.”

O’Hara’s teammates are looking forward to giving the legend the send off she deserves

“It’s bittersweet, and she said it best in her announcement and in the most Kelley way – let’s not cry about its ending, but smile because of all the times she’s had, because we can’t all player forever, unfortunately,” said Lynn Williams. “Kelley is one of a kind. I feel so honored and blessed to have not only played with her on the national team but to have been able to play with her and get to know her here [at Gotham]. I am hoping she’s able to [overcome] her injury and get back onto the field so we can give her a nice farewell journey.”

With five more months left in the NWSL season, there is still plenty of time for O’Hara to make one last go at an NWSL trophy. In the meantime, let’s take a trip down memory lane and revisit a few of the moments, both on and off the pitch, that cemented O’Hara as a legend of the game.

Goal against Germany in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup

Perhaps one of O’Hara’s most iconic moments on the pitch came in the 2015 World Cup. With an incredible volley assisted by Carli Lloyd, she sealed the USWNT’s win over Germany with a goal in the 84th minute that sent the team to the final, eventually bringing home the trophy.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Game-wining goal in extra time for Washington Spirit’s 2021 NWSL Championship

O’Hara would only score one goal in the 2021 NWSL season, and what a goal it was. In extra-time of the 2021 final, the service of Trinity Rodman found the head of O’Hara to lift the Spirit to an eventual 2-1 win over the Chicago Red Stars.

Coming “full circle” with Gotham FC

O’Hara made a splash in 2022 as one of the first NWSL free agents to announce her next team. At a taping of Men in Blazers, she announced her intent to sign with then-last place Gotham FC. She would later describe her decision as a “full circle” moment in an exclusive interview with The Equalizer.

The signing of O’Hara was the first piece in a series of moves that ultimately led Gotham FC to its first NWSL Championship.

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