New England Soccer Today

O’Reilly Gunning For Another Gold

Heather O’Reilly has been there for both the good times and bad.

Last summer, the current Breakers midfielder started every World Cup match including the final game, a heartbreaking contest that Japan won on penalty kicks. Four years ago, she helped the Americans capture a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

O’Reilly and the rest of the U.S. national team will be hoping for a repeat of success of 2008 rather than the heartbreak of 2011 when the Olympic Games kickoff later this month. National team head coach Pia Sundhage has called up all but two players from last year’s World Cup team, meaning that the Olympic squad will be remarkably similar to the one seen last summer in Germany.

The speedy winger has long been a fixture for the U.S. national team. She has 166 caps and 34 goals since beginning her international playing career in 2002. That means that O’Reilly has scored at every echelon of world soccer- from friendlies, to qualifiers, to the World Cup and Olympic Games.

Few will forget her goal against New Zealand at Beijing 2008 – the fastest goal in Olympic history. Fewer will forget Athens 2004 when less than one year after recovering from breaking her fibula, a 19-year-old O’Reilly scored the game-winning goal in a semi-final against Germany to send the U.S. to finals, where they eventually beat Brazil for gold.

But what sets O’Reilly apart from the rest of her peers his her blazing pace and her fierce shot. When the Breakers were able to secure O’Reilly’s contract prior to the start of the WPSL Elite season, they knew that she would miss most of the 2012 campaign due to Olympic duties.

But that hasn’t stopped O’Reilly, known by many at Dilboy Stadium as HAO (the initials of her full name Heather Ann O’Reilly), from making an impact. In her two games with the Breakers, O’Reilly has been a blur on the flanks. She’s assisted on three goals in the same, simple way: beat the defender out wide and play a cross in. And while she hasn’t found the back of the net yet, to say that O’Reilly isn’t in form would be inaccurate.

After all, the Breakers – nor the Olympic team – don’t need O’Reilly to be the goal scorer. Rather, they need her to collect the ball in midfield, beat her defender, and provide service to Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. It’s a duty the former Tar Heel has been performing this task since she donned the U.S. uniform in 2002 and hasn’t stopped since.

But while O’Reilly joins the U.S. team as a reliable veteran, she’s a league apart from the majority of her Olympic teammates – literally. As one of only two WPSL Elite players on the Olympic roster – the other being Flash midfielder Tobin Heath – O’Reilly hasn’t been able to enjoy playing with – or against – many of her fellow Olympic teammates, the bulk of whom ply their trade in the W-League or abroad.

Ideally, a gold medal would begin to move things in the right direction in regards to creating a new league. And with representatives from Major League Soccer, WPSL Elite, and U.S. Soccer meeting last week in Chicago to discuss the state of women’s soccer, a new women’s league could be on the table soon.

In the meantime, O’Reilly, who left for London on Tuesday, will be solely focused on the Olympics. In addition to France, the U.S. is in a group with Colombia and North Korea. Interestingly, the U.S. defeated each of those teams with O’Reilly’s help at the World Cup last summer.  No doubt, the Breakers midfielder is gunning for another chance to win it all and, quite possibly, put the ghosts of Germany 2011 in the rearview for good.

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