In this edition of The Talking Game, Bundesliga editor Aditya Balaram interviews the midfield maestro of the U.S Women’s National Team, Heather O’Reilly. O’Reilly has a lot to say about her time in North Carolina, the new club system in the U.S and a whole lot more.
The U.S Women’s team has been at the center of success in the sport, boasting four Olympic triumphs and two World Cup victories. Over the past eleven years Heather O’Reilly has been an integral part of the setup, having amassed a massive total of 185 caps at just 28. O’Reilly has already had a fair share of big moments which include scoring the winner in the 2004 Olympics semi final against Germany and netting the equaliser against North Korea in the 2007 World Cup.
Aditya Balaram: Unlike in many other countries, women’s football is almost on par with men’s football in the USA. What would you attribute this to?
Heather O’Reilly: I think we still have a long way to go with women’s soccer in our country in terms of awareness and TV exposure and things like that, but we sure are proud of how far we have come. I think early on, the USA women’s soccer team had a winning mentality, and very good athletes. That is a great combination. Along with that, we are marketable women, and people want to root for us. We hope, along with the men’s team, that soccer will continue to grow here.
Q: What was it like to find out that you would be representing your country at the ripe age of 17? Did your joy overpower the tension or was it the other way round?
O’Reilly: I was very nervous coming in at a young age, but when you are young you also feel like you have nothing to lose! I think I turned that feeling into a positive thing for me and just kept telling myself that I was there for a reason. The coaches believed in me and I figure it was time to believe in myself.
Q: Having been called up to the national team at such a young age was there ever an inkling of worry about being called up too early?
O’Reilly: I was very aware of players that came in young and sort of ‘fizzled out.’ I just focused on being the best ‘me’ I could be every day. I think that has helped me stay at the highest level for a long time.
O’Reilly: My time at UNC was huge for my development as a player. Although I was always competitive, the environment with the UNC women’s soccer program fosters competitiveness to another level. I learned there what the difference is between winning and losing. A lot of times, it is the willingness to take risks. Sometimes it is the willingness to push your body physically past what is comfortable. All the time it is bringing what you can control to the table every single day, which is your attitude and work ethic.
Q: Do you think college soccer is a better system at the youth level than playing at the youth outfit of a professional club?
O’Reilly: In the U.S. it is different than around the world. For female soccer, the college game is still the best system. There have been some women who have chosen another path, but I am thankful for my time at college because I got the best of all worlds, a great footballing experience, a world class education, and four years of critical personal development. I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything.
Q: You’ve been involved in some incredibly important goals that have helped the USWNT. If you had to choose one special goal, which one would it be?
O’Reilly: I have been lucky to have scored some great goals for the U.S., but my favorite one was in the 2004 Olympic semifinal against Germany. I was a late sub and I received a ball from Mia Hamm, my idol. I helped a group of veteran players bow out with a gold medal so you can’t get much better than that.
Q: How highly do you rate the club football system in the USA? Is it better for players to look to move to the European leagues?
O’Reilly: We are trying to grow the professional league here in the U.S. with a new professional league called the National Women’s Soccer League. Although perhaps it will take a few years to work out some growing pains, I feel like we have the deepest league in terms of competitiveness from the top team to the bottom team and that makes every single weekend a battle. And that is favorable for our development.
Q: The USWNT really seems to favor the Olympics rather than the World Cup. Why is this the case? Which do you consider to be the more prestigious tournament?
O’Reilly: Both are hugely important. We as a team are hungry to have a World Cup title again and have some of the success that we have had at the Olympics.
Q: With the next World Cup two years away, the likes of Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx and Christie Rampone could have hung up their boots by then. Are you confident that such influential players can be replaced by then?
O’Reilly: They are incredible players and I feel like they still have some great football ahead of them. There is also a good group of young players always knocking at the door so right now it’s a great mix.
Q: At 28 you’ve already managed a mind boggling 185 caps. Do you fancy yourself catching up with Kristine Lilly by the time you’re done playing with the sport?
O’Reilly: I don’t think what Kristine Lilly did will likely ever be done again. I will try to take it one year and one game at a time. Playing for the US for 180-plus games so far has been an absolute honor.
Q: Any chances we might see you sporting the captain’s armband in a few years, maybe even at the World Cup?
O’Reilly: We have a lot of incredible leaders in the U.S. group. I just try to lead by example every day.
TheHardTackle would like to thank Heather O’Reilly for taking her time off and answering our questions and also the Press Officer of the U.S Women’s National Soccer Team, Aaron Heifetz, for helping us conduct the interview.