Heather O’Reilly gets perfect send off in USWNT romp

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by TOM SLATER

As far as farewell games go, you couldn’t get a better sendoff than Heather O’Reilly got Thursday in Columbus. The script played out perfectly.

They trotted out Mia Hamm for pre-game ceremonies — one number 9 honoring another.

Wearing the captain’s armband, O’Reilly was cheered on every touch. She assisted. She scored. She smiled. She came out to a standing ovation (even though her team would play the final few minutes with 10).  She cried.

And so did many in the stands and probably more watching on ESPN2.

The only ones who didn’t have any fun were the Thailand team. They played the roles of patsies in a 9-0 loss.

After Hamm and O’Reilly’s family were introduced pre-game to give Heather her #9 jersey, the crowd in Columbus was barely in their seats before the Jersey girl gave them their first chance to cheer on-the-field activities.

O’Reilly started things off with one her textbook moves that got her end line on the right wing. She was able to serve to Carli Lloyd, who headed a looping shot over the head of goalkeeper Yada Sengyong for the early lead.

After Christen Press scored in the fourth minute, O’Reilly gave the crowd something to really cheer about. Lloyd picked off an errant clear by Thailand just inside the penalty box and drove end line. She picked up head and saw O’Reilly streaking toward the penalty area. The pass was great. The finish by O’Reilly was better. She hit the ball down the middle for an easy goal — her 47th career international goal.

Winning 3-0 and with 85 minutes left, the rest of the night was to see how else O’Reilly could get involved. She did get a second assist on another Lloyd goal in the second half as the Americans poured it on.

On any other night, Lloyd would have been the big story. The midfielder had three goals — her seventh career hat trick — and four assists as she had a hand in all but yeo of the eight goals. Her assists set up Tobin Heath, Press and Alex Morgan. Morgan had two goals and Crystal Dunn also had one in the rout.

And on any other night, Megan Rapinoe might have dominated the storyline. Amidst much speculation, Rapinoe kneeled during the playing of the United States national anthem.

The only question left in the second half was how O’Reilly would get her final cheer from the Ohio crowd. Coach Jill Ellis made five substitutes to start the second half, leaving only Crystal Dunn available as a field player. When Dunn came in for Julie Johnston, it appeared that O’Reilly would play the full 90 in her final match — which would have been quintessential O’Reilly. But with less than five minutes left, Ellis opted to play short and pulled O’Reilly off the field.

And the woman known for her game face, came off with a smile that quickly turned into tears of happiness. And she wasn’t the only one.