When Heather O’Reilly first joined the Women’s National Team, she wasn’t even old enough to have a credit card.
A decade and a half later, the 31-year-old midfielder will close her career as one of the longest-standing members of the national team. She officially announced her international retirement Thursday, although she will continue playing for FC Kansas City.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I literally grew up on this team,” O’Reilly said. “I came onto the team as a teenager. I remember going to my first camp, I didn’t even have a credit card. My parents drove me to the airport. Now, 15 years later, all I’ve done on the field and off, it’s really amazing.”
O’Reilly has 230 appearances (or caps) and 46 goals at the international level and was a part of three Olympic gold medals and a 2015 World Cup victory. When she played in her 200th women’s national team match against Korea DPR in 2014, O’Reilly became the second-youngest player in U.S. history to reach 200 caps.
Despite the crowded midfield of this year’s national team, O’Reilly was somewhat of a surprise omission from the 18-woman Olympic roster last month. She still joined the team in Brazil as one of four alternates, who don’t see game action.
Although her international career will officially conclude this month, O’Reilly will continue to play for FCKC, which has four games remaining in the regular season. She first joined FCKC last year, helping the team to a second National Women’s Soccer League championship.
“Quite simply, I love this game a lot,” O’Reilly said of her decision to not retire from her club. “I love playing this sport. There’s not many places I’d rather be than on a soccer field. I find a lot of joy in doing this.”
O’Reilly’s last match at the national level will be Sept. 15 in Columbus, in a friendly against Thailand. There, she will put on her red, white and blue jersey for the last time, after spending half her life representing the U.S.
She has withstood several regime and style changes — a steady presence through multiple Olympic and World Cup cycles.
“I’m incredibly proud to have played under five different coaching staffs with the national team,” O’Reilly said. “When I pull myself away and think that I’ve been there through so many different coaches with that many different philosophies, it’s something I’m super proud of.”
O’Reilly not only produced as a young player but maintained her consistency through the years. As a 19-year-old, she scored the game-winning goal against Germany in the 2004 Olympic semifinal. Two full cycles later, she was instrumental in another Olympic medal: Her cross to Alex Morgan in the 123rd minute of the 2012 semifinal match against Canada netted another game-winner.
Her presence of mind, attacking mentality (even in practice) and refusal to give up on plays is what O’Reilly will be remembered for at the national level.
“The difference between elite (players) becomes effort and mentality and attitude, and she brought that every single day,” said national team and FC Kansas City teammate Becky Sauerbrunn, who has known O’Reilly since they were 16. “We’re together a lot, and people have their ups and downs, and you go through things on and off the field, but HAO (O’Reilly’s nickname based on her initials), I don’t know how she did it, every single day she brought it and never took a day off. To have someone like that on the team, it’s rare and irreplaceable, and honestly I don’t know how we’re going to fill that.”