Heather O’Reilly deserved better from USWNT

IMAGE, FCKANSASCITY.COM

by TOM SLATER

EDITORIAL: It didn’t take long for United States Women’s National Team coach Jill Ellis to put an end to the celebration, hoopla and farewell games that defined 2015.

In fact, after just one match in 2016, Ellis sent a message to everyone that change is here. And now.

That change begins with an unpopular decision — leaving Heather O’Reilly off the United States’ 20-player roster as the Americans get ready for the Olympic qualifying in Texas.

Unless there is a drastic change, O’Reilly, the 31-year-old New Jersey native midfielder who has been with the US senior team since 2002, may have played her last game. But unlike Abby Wambach, Lauren Holiday and Shannon Boxx, there was no farewell match. No retirement story. O’Reilly was simply left off the list.

Sort of like Landon Donovan in 2014.

She wasn’t the only one left of Ellis’ list. Christie Rampone wasn’t invited, but she is still recovering from a knee surgery underwent in December. Megan Rapinoe is also rehabbing and may be brought into camp when she is closer to being fit. Whitney Engen was not invited but she was the only field player not to see the field in Canada. As for Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez, they didn’t play much in Canada and both are pregnant.

But the omission of O’Reilly ignited a stir on social media, where many couldn’t believe that she was dismissed without ceremony. Her numbers alone are amazing: 227 caps and 46 international goals. Three Olympic gold medals. One World Cup title.

There was a big call amongst fans for her to have a chance to win a spot during training camp or at least have a farewell game like the other stars. And they have a point. Few have had the impact and career of a Heather O’Reilly. She’s been on the national team for 14 years. She was only 17 when she first was called up by then-coach April Heinrichs. She was once thought to be the heir apparent to Mia Hamm – both wearing the number 9 shirt – but really became her own player. Her career is defined by her high energy level, fanatical work rate and positive attitude. She never complained about her role – starter or substitute – and only wanted to win.

In short, she served to embody the USWNT program – and reminded everyone of her class shortly after her roster snub.

O’Reilly is still fit, still positive — and still a leader. She could be a game-changer coming off the bench, using her high energy to attack down the flank and send dangerous balls through the box.

But she won’t be.

Ellis is betting her career on Lindsey Horan, Crystal Dunn, Morgan Brian, Emily Sonnett and 17-year-old Mallory Pugh to provide the industry left behind by O’Reilly. Those are the young guns that could bring another Olympic gold medal to the United States. They hope to follow Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Hope Solo as the next great generation of great women’s soccer players.

In the end, Ellis may be right. Her picks all may work out.

But if this truly is her last hoorah, Ellis should have let O’Reilly go on her own terms. She deserved it.

  • Techno Gryffin

    Thank you for putting my feelings into words. This is spot on.

  • Ed

    Its not a charity. If Ellis doesn’t see her as a fit in her system why force it. Klye was left off of Canada’s roster. She is in her prime.

    • Lily

      O’Reilly won the NWSL in 2015 with KC where she assisted on the goal, she played in the WWC, with so many of the veterans gone they could use her experience and leadership, she proved she was the fittest on the team when she crushed the beep test, she played well on the victory tour where she scored some goals…do you want me to keep going? and btw compearing HAO to Kyle is ridiculous

      • Ed

        Kyle was as important to Canada as has was to the uswnt. No body is saying that they are equal. Just making the argument that important players for teams are always left out. It’s part of the game. Plus there are few real competitive matches in the women’s game to test out players might as well do it qualifying.

      • Hil

        Ellis is building a new squad and it’s been obvious for a while that HAO’s services were less and less needed the more Abbyball and her role in that faded out. It’s been telegraphed for over a year. HAO hardly played in the 2015 WC and wasn’t more than the occasional appearance in the Victory Tour. She’s 31 and has had every dream achieved as a pro including Olympic and WC medals. Not a lot of people get that.

        The new players that Ellis called in also have dreams. Unfulfilled dreams. At one time HAO came onto the NT as a 17 year old and bumped a vet off the team. Someone’s time was up and this nobody kid who won nothing had the audacity to join the squad of 99ers just like these rookies and look what she made of herself. That’s the cycle of life. The notion she’s been robbed of anything is ridiculous. She’s been privileged to be regularly brought into camp for over a decade and be evaluated among the best in the country and had her greatness affirmed year after year. This last time she came up perhaps a roster spot short.

        That’s fine. There are still more camps after this. The weightier #SheBelieves tournament is still coming up. Maybe someone gets injured and she is back in the mix. Maybe Ellis doesn’t like what she sees from others and calls her name again. However it goes the narrative by her supporters that she’s been wronged in anyway is ridiculous and makes her look small. Being there forever and killing the beep test aren’t arguments that make you an automatic call up to an extremely limited roster. Making that the key points just shines a light on how few points are left to make.

        • Jon Tupper

          Yes, yours is a mature, real politik view. However, consider playing England, France, Germany, Sweden, and Brazil when the chips are down, even Nigeria with their speed. Crystal Dunn and Lindsay Horan seem battle ready at that level. The rest of the newbies, I think not. Also, consider if there is a crucial injury during the Olympics themselves. Both circumstances are where HAO’s experience can be useful. To claim that she can’t adapt styles is a pretty stern judgment. And even if she isn’t doing as well as Ellis expects in the change to a more technical, ball control, triangle, squares, give and go style, doesn’t CL play headers well and JJ too, Morgan. None of them is Abby. I agree with the writer of the article at base: HAO is a good person and if this is ball game deserved a better send off.

      • Anna

        Yes HAO is a great player and has proved herself many times ovwe BUT the reality of soccer and the USWNT is simple, everytime there is a camp it doesn’t mean you are solitified as having a roster spot, no matter who you are. That’s why the best get invited in to COMPETE for a spot. Only Ellis and HAO know why she was not given a spot. Maybe has already ‘peaked’ as a player and is starting to decline, I have no idea but this team is Ellis’s and for whatever reason, she didn’t make it. It’s the reality of the game and playing at such a high level. Does she deserve a send off game ? No, I don’t believe so and I freaking love HAO’s game but she chose not to retire and go on with camp and competing for a spot. You don’t give a send off game after the fact that your cut from the team, you go out in class and hope you get invited to the next camp where you can prove your worth and your ability to change into whatever dynamics Ellis is building with this young roster, you don’t go out pouting and I don’t believe she is.

  • Bradley

    I love HAO, but the new USWNT game was passing her by. She doesn’t have the skill, touch, or creativity of the younger generation. She was great at getting to the touch line and crossing, but without Abby, that isn’t needed anymore. Time to develop the next group. I do wish she could have done it on her own terms.

  • Rich

    Let me say this first, I absolutely love Heather O. She is a team leader by example and attitude. However, but this is nothing like Landon Donovan. Donovan was clearly better than half the players on the USMNT, but the same can’t be said for Heather O. The bottomline is that the USWNT changed their game in real-time during the World Cup away from a plodding game with constant crosses into Abby Wambach to a speed game with a high level of possession and player movement. They are the better for it. Heather O can certainly play tat game as well, but there are other younger players more suited to that role. Lets roll-back to June 2003 when she broke her leg right before the 2003 World Cup. She was a favorite of April Heinrichs and would have been replacing one of the ’99ers. Perhaps Tiffeny Milbrett or Cindy Parlow or Shannon MacMillen? Lets remember that the 2003 team was embarrassed by Germany and really needed a shakeup to move forward. That shakeup lasted a decade.

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  • Joe

    She played a whopping 10 minutes in the last world cup; and her best asset is her work rate. In the growing game of womens soccer at the professional level, you need more than athleticism. She had a great career, but its time for new players