Report: Heather O’Reilly to sign with Arsenal Ladies

IMAGE, FCKANSASCITY.COM

by TOM SLATER

Heather O’Reilly is apparently the latest player from the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) to jump from the United States’ domestic league to the Eureopean ranks.

O’Reilly, who retired from international soccer last fall, is said to be signing a contract with the Arsenal Ladies of the FA Women’s Super League (WSL), England’s top domestic league. The word is she’ll return to FC Kansas City and the NWSL after the English season ends in early June.

The story was reported by Glenn Crooks on Twitter Tuesday morning.

In her international tenure, O’Reilly won a gold medal at three consecutive Olympics, while also playing in three World Cups for the Americans and winning one in 2015. The 32-year-old ranks fifth all time in national team assists. Her playing time was greatly reduced in the 2015 World Cup and was left off the roster for Olympic Qualifying Games a year ago, which caused much furor among her fans and those who thought she was unceremoniously dumped by coach Jill Ellis. She was eventually brought back for several friendlies and was an alternate on the 2016 Olympic squad.

She played in a farewell match last September in which she scored a goal and set up the game’s first goal.

The East Brunswick native and former USWNT start will be the third big name to leave the United States for Europe since the beginning of January. Right after the New Year, Alex Morgan, one of the top American established players, will spend the first half of 2017 with Olympique Lyon in France after joining on a six-month loan from the Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Soccer League. Crystal Dunn, a former NWSL MVP and an up-and-rising star with the United States Women’s National Team, signed with Chelsea Ladies of the FA WSL in the first week of 2017.

Unlike Morgan and evidently O’Reilly, Dunn will not play in the NWSL in 2017 as her contract runs through 2016.

Since its inception five years ago, the NWSL has received plenty of support financially and philosophically from US Soccer. Allocated national team players were paid by US Soccer, not individual clubs. And for a while, players couldn’t be part of the national team pool unless they played in NWSL (see Horan, Lindsey).

However, the latest snag in negotiations with the collective bargaining agreement between the federation and the women’s players association have loosened that relationship.

The original collective bargaining agreement between US Soccer and the women players originally expired in 2012. They have since signed a memorandum of understanding which would govern their relationship going forward. This expired at the end of 2016 and the national team players are now in negotiations for a new agreement.

As part of the extended agreement, national team players can opt out of playing in the NWSL to play in Europe, but only if they play in the NWSL for two years. Dunn is the youngest of the three and played in the NWSL from 2014 to 2016. Morgan and O’Reilly have more than the minimum two years.

To add to the animosity, five US players filed a complaint on behalf of the team last year, suing US Soccer for ‘discrimination’ and demanding equal pay for equal work.

This is an off-year in women’s international soccer. The only tournament on the horizon is the United States-sponsored SheBelieves Cup, to be held in March in New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

But this could have an effect on the NWSL. If the exodus of players continue, the American league could be weakened. Morgan and O’Reilly were two of the more marketable players for the NWSL. Dunn was just coming into her own.