Another Champion Label Awaits: Heather O’Reilly

Spotlight: Heather O'Reilly

The United States Women’s National Team is in Mexico today about to hurdle their first obstacle on their way to World Cup 2011 in Germany.

Before their sojourn to Cancun, TSG had a chance to catch up with superstar flanker Heather O’Reilly, whose trophy case is devoid of just one piece of hardware: an elusive World Cup gold medal.

So how does someone who has won a championship at all levels begin her preparation for a qualifying tournament?

By getting engaged, of course, back at their alma mater, in this case the University of North Carolina. Who knew?

TSG caught up with Heather by phone in Chapel Hill.

An endearing subject; enjoy the read.

TSG: Okay, let’s start with a simple question.

We spoke to Kristine Lilly the other day; you average about 15.87 caps per year, Kristine averages 15.17 caps per year. So…if your career spans the same 23 years that her’s did, you’ll break her most capped record.

Heather O’Reilly, how do you feel about that?

O'Reilly, hot on the trail of Lilly's cap record...

Heather O’Reilly: <Laughing> Is that true?

I don’t think that Lill’s record will ever be touched.

Also, U.S. Soccer used to play a ton more games. Now, with the WPS, we don’t get those game numbers in each year.

Yeah, but what Lill’s done won’t ever be topped and I don’t see myself playing as long as her.

TSG: We’re rooting for you anyway…

Heather: That would be an epic race.

TSG: You’re headed to Mexico in a week or so…

Heather: I don’t think anyone forgets ever what happened in 2007. You might have to stat check me on this, but I think only Kristine Lilly and Christine Rampone have a World Cup gold in their possession. It’s pretty fresh in everyone’s minds that the last two World Cups we haven’t won.

I think everybody thinks about that and we’re excited to start the journey. We’re fired up about getting it back from the Germans for sure.

TSG: When you go down there, and since you’re expected to win–and I don’t mean disrespect to any opponents–but do you work on things to improve for the World Cup next year or do you just focus on winning each game?

Heather: I don’t think it has to be black-and-white either way. Something Pia is fond of saying over and over again is, “Respect the game, respect your opponent.”

We’re going to take care of one game at a time and we’re going to take care of business.

But it does come easier when we’re focused on some of the stuff we focused on in practice.

O'Reilly, applying her physical style in the midfield...

TSG: In terms of your not-so-recent position change, is there a different mindset coming off the side as a midfielder? Are you still looked at as a key attacker to score or is it more about the assists now?

Heather: My whole life I was a forward. I love being a striker obviously and sneaking behind defenses and scoring goals.

That to me is exciting and the best part of soccer…HOWEVER…

When Pia came in in 2008, she liked me in the midfield.

She thought my all-around game qualities on the field and being a physical player worked better in the midfield.

I worked on it a lot and I’ve really embraced the position now.

It’s fun going down the flank, taking on the defenders and crossing the ball into someone like Abby Wambach who makes a lot of my poor crosses look good.

TSG: I’ve seen some good crosses from you too, Heather.

Okay, only seven of the 20 players have previous World Cup qualifying experience.

Haather: Wow only seven, that’s hard to believe.

I think there’s a good mix of youth and veterans.

The thing about it…it’s a seasoned team in terms of age.

Alex Morgan’s the youngest and she’s already a senior in college with three years of college soccer under her belt.

We’ve got a lot of experience. And everyone at respective club teams has  been asked to step up into leadership roles and that will go a long way.

TSG: So Shannon Boxx, she took from the men’s game so to speak, the notion of a true box-to-box player. When she’s gone who steps into that role and, more importantly, what’s the next major trend in women’s soccer?

Heather: I think there are a lot of good holding midfielders on the teams. In terms of Shannon, yeah, she has a unique set of skills, but Yael Averbuch and Lesley Osborne do that same job in a different way.

I think Lesley Osborne might be the best in the air.

And Yeal has a greater range switching the attack than any female in the world.

Shannon has been so important to the team but we’ve also got a lot of good players coming up.

Next, in terms of strategy, Pia has emphasized flank play over and over again. Not just the midfielders getting out there or making a cross, but getting our outside backs forward in the attack.

She wants them to be the fittest players on the filed…and that hasn’t been the norm on our national teams in the past.

She’s looking for them to get up and down in the match and I think that’s the next evolution of the women’s game.

TSG: Everything that I’ve read or heard about Pia speaks to her being a phenomenal coach. Here’s a good segue. Two things are said over and over again regarding the Men’s National Team: one, a foreign coach doesn’t understand the American soccer player, only an American one can; and two, there isn’t the proper or correct youth development happening.

But then I look at the Women’s National Team and you guys are highly successful with Pia in charge and you don’t seem to lack for talent.

React to that statement.

Heather: I think that the Women’s and Men’s side development is very different.

For women, more is through our university system and playing four years.

I will say looking at our recent youth team tournaments we haven’t been up to par where we should be in the women’s game. Our development’s been lacking. Girls are limited now in terms of playing up age groups and are told to focus on one sport when they’re young.

I think that stunts their growth.

Seems like a foreign coach does just fine for the U.S. Women's Team.

TSG: Sounds like a fair assessment from someone with a good vantage point. Continuing on with Pia in terms of a foreign coach…is that a positive or a negative having a foreign coach?

Heather: Pia is definitely a positive.

I thin she brings a different look and we certainly talk a lot more tactics under Pia than any coach we’ve had.

And also, Pia recognizes what’s made American’s women soccer what it is. There’s a reason why American women has been one of the best teams in the world for a long time.

A lot of it is a mentality, an attitude. A never-say-die attitude, win at all costs attitude.

That being said, we can layer in more sophistication.

I think it works well with Pia. It’s a mesh of our mentality and more of her sophistication.

TSG: Great answer, I might have to share that one with Sunil Gulati…Nevermind…Who’s the favorite next year in Germany?

Heather: Well, we’re a well respected team and I obviously like our chances.

That being said, playing Germany in Germany is going to be a challenge.

The Brazil team will be strong…we’ve hung out with them off the pitch…but once we see them on the field we’ll get fired up.

I would say Brazil, Germany and that we’re up there as well.

TSG: Let’s say it’s 0-0 in the final game, 10 minutes to go and the U.S. is going to rally for a sort of golden goal to the win the championship, how does that play unfold in your mind?

Heather: I don’t know. I think that we do score in a lot of different and exciting ways.

I think of Abby–our top goal scorer–and she definitely has a way of dominating the game–I can say that after playing against her in club ball.

Maybe she’ll hit it…or maybe Carli Lloyd will get a header.

Maybe I’ll fly down the flank, scoot inside, and bury it myself.

TSG: Glad you included yourself.

Heather: You have to, right?

TSG: A few lay-ups to finish up the interview. Who’s your roommate on the road? Do you have one?

Heather: We switch it up quite a bit…but Rachel Buehler is a good friend and we often are together.

TSG: Does she snore?

Heather: No that would not be something I would be able to stand.

Not too many girls snore. Abby’s certainly the heaviest breather though.


TSG: Say you were to take 10 penalty kicks against Tim Howard. How many of them do you bury?

Heather: Well Tim and I grew up in the same area central jersey. I’ve known Tim for years…he’s an incredible goalie. But I like my chances.

I would say at least 50% maybe 6.

TSG: You certainly have a good chance, but if Timmy’s on…

Heather: I can at least bury 50% on him.

TSG: Which teammate is most likely to trip in heels.

Heather: Let’s see…that’s a fun question…would have to peg myself.

TSG: Oh c’mon, both you and Kristine, way too diplomatic.

Heather: No, that’s a fairly accurate answer. I’m fairly klutzy and I don’t wear heels now.

TSG: If you had to give your #9 jersey to some other than Abby who would it be?

Heather: Other than Abby?!

TSG: You already used her in two of your answers so let’s diversify a little here, okay?

Heather: <Laughing> Tobin Heath, youngster from New Jersey, played at Carolina, and I would let her rob my “nine.”

TSG: Now, you were a candidate for “Sportsman of the year in 2007″…and you lost to Brett…Favre…that just seems, well, wrong. Care to explain how that happened?

Heather: It was.

TSG: That was the year you had that big goal in the World Cup qualifying.

Heather: We didn’t win the World Cup, so I’ll let Brett have it.

Maybe 2010 with be the year for me…he’s not going to win it this year.

TSG: What’s your favorite moment from playing with the Women’s National Team, whether it be elation, celebration, serious, wistful, whatever…

Heather: Winning Olympic gold medals are great and all, but more specifically, I scored a goal against New Zealand in the quarterfinals in the first 2 minutes of the game.

TSG: Fastest goal ever. C’mon.

Heather: Yeah, well you know…

I can’t even explain that goosebumps I had after hitting that shot and my teammates coming over and absolutely mobbing me.

I have some awesome pictures with my veins popping out, too.

TSG: Thanks so much for your time Heather.

Good luck in Mexico and best of luck in breaking Kristine’s record.

Heather: Thanks, I appreciate it.

O'Reilly ecstatic after the fastest goal ever...

12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by leo on 2010/10/28 at 10:51 AM

    You typed “Kristie Peters” and I think you meant to type Christie Pierce (now Rampone). She and Lilly are the only two players on the WWCQ roster to have a WWC winners medal.


  2. MY favorit comment in this interview:

    I thin she brings a different look and we certainly talk a lot more tactics under Pia than any coach we’ve had.

    “And also, Pia recognizes what’s made American’s women soccer what it is. There’s a reason why American women has been one of the best teams in the world for a long time.

    A lot of it is a mentality, an attitude. A never-say-die attitude, win at all costs attitude.

    That being said, we can layer in more sophistication.

    I think it works well with Pia. It’s a mesh of our mentality and more of her sophistication”

    Someone once told me that UNC Women’s soccer was just a bunch of bigger, faster, fitter girls playing hoof-ball (or the old English tactic of bypassing the midfield) to the striker and their athleticism is what won them all of those trophies. The few times I’ve seen women play at the college, high school, or club level I also noticed an over-reliance on the athleticism. It’s nice to see Pia embracing that part of the game while layering in some sophistication.

    As for the question itself, I would love to get a reason out of someone as to why only an American coach can understand American players. Ruud Guillit failed in LA, but that may have had more to do with MLS as a league and not the players. At the end of the day players are players, and coaches are paid to evaluate players on all of their skills. Foreign coaches may not simply pick someone who’s just an athletic freak of nature the way an American coach might (per the stereotypes) but they don’t completely ignore tenacity and hustle either. Look at Genaro Gattuso – would he look out of place running around out there with Michael Bradley? Not to put them in the same class but their both very tenacious (sometimes hotheaded) players who seem to have more grit and hustle in them than anyone else on the field at times. Gattuso plays somewhat like an American but he’s been understood by his coaches in Italy just fine.


    • Posted by Jared on 2010/10/28 at 11:32 AM

      That was definitely an interesting part of the interview. I think it’s funny that the Women’s team is more open to change than the men’s team. You would think it would be the other way around because at least the Women’s team has won titles with an American coach.

      Gattuso is a good example to use when comparing coaching styles. The good European coaches pair Gattuso (the water carrier) with Pirlo (the ballplayer) to create a pair of players with defined roles. Bradley on the other hand puts out two (sometimes 3) water carriers and 0 passers and then seems stumped as to why the US creates nothing from central midfield in terms of quality passing.


    • Reading an interesting Norman Hubbard piece about Roberto DiMatteo over on soccernet and I came across this jewel of a statement that might explain those in USSF who think that only American coaches can understand the American soccer player:

      “And, unlike the Brits whose inability to speak any other tongue can display an arrogance that borders on xenophobia…”

      Not to say that those who believe “Americans must coach Americans” are acting intentionally arrogant and xenophobic but their trepidation in all things foreign comes off the same as the shy kid whom everyone thinks is stuck up because he doesn’t talk to anyone else. I realize the quote is talking strictly about a verbal language barrier, but on-field tactics and understanding of a player’s development are part of a shared language as well.


  3. […] Heather O’Reilly will be there. Kristine Lilly for the first time since the 1980′s will not. Don't let the sultry image fool you. This vixen is deadly in front of the next. Ask Italy… […]


  4. […] exquisite play of Heather O’Reilly and some promising flashes from youngster Alex Morgan tonight sought to silence that notion as the […]


  5. […] any copiers. (Question: Couldn’t ESPN have used a different star here for a change? Maybe Heather O’Reilly or Alex Morgan? Just a […]


  6. […] issues, as the starting midfield will almost undoubtedly be Megan Rapinoe on the left wing, Heather O’Reilly on the right, and Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd in the middle with Boxx playing a holding midfield […]


  7. […] Heather O’Reilly returns to commandeer her wing. […]


  8. […] Heather O’Reilly: Another Champion Label Awaits: Heather O’Reilly […]


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