At 20 years old, forward Heather O’Reilly is the youngest player at this week's U.S. Women’s National Team training camp in Charleston, S.C., as the team gets ready to face Mexico (tickets) on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 1 p.m. ET (Live on ESPN2 and Telemundo). O’Reilly missed the last two training camps, one because she was playing in Sweden with the U.S. U-21s at the Nordic Cup and the other because she is embroiled in her college season at University of North Carolina. The junior has poured in 14 goals so far this season, her best effort as a collegian, and is the only college player on the U.S. roster. For those who know O’Reilly, it’s tough to get her to sit still, but ussoccer.com got her to slow down long enough to answer 11 questions, ranging from her college team, to her “go-go” personality and her excellent genetics.
ussoccer.com: So, this is your first camp with the full national team since June. You only missed two training camps and games, but it seems like a long time. What do you like about being back in the national team environment?
Heather O'Reilly: “It’s always good to train with some of the best players in the world, but it’s also great to catch up with all the girls. It’s always fun with the national team because you can be gone from each other for a number of months, but when you get back together and get filled in on everyones' lives, it feels like you never left. It’s just back to normal.”
ussoccer.com: You are having a great season for the UNC Tar Heels this year. The end of the season should be exciting. How do you see your college team shaping up for the playoff run?
HAO: “There are so many good teams on the college scene, this year especially, I feel. The parity makes it so much more competitive, but we enjoy that. Our team is mature enough to understand that we have to take it one game at a time. We learned that the hard way last year. I think our team is really focused on making up for last season and getting to the Final Four.”
ussoccer.com: You are known as one of the fastest players on the national team, but you’ve never run track competitively. Your dad is a boy’s track coach at your local high school and ran at Villanova. There is even a rumor that at one time, he was part of a 4x400 team that held the indoor world record. Have you ever thought about running track for UNC in the spring?
HAO: “As much as it disappointed my dad, I don’t think it was my calling to be a track runner. There just seems to be a difference to me between running in a straight line and running while trying to avoid defenders and then trying to a score a goal. I guess I am more competitive in the team setting than individually.”
usssoccer.com: Could you beat your dad in a 50-yard dash today?
HAO: “I think so, because he would definitely pull a hamstring after the first 15 yards.”
ussoccer.com: You are part of a wave of very talented young players on the full national team, including Lindsay Tarpley, Leslie Osborne and Lori Chalupny, all of whom won the FIFA U-19 World Championship in 2002. What kind of impact do you think this group can make in the 2007 Women’s World Cup.
HAO: “Well, I think time will tell, but as long U.S. Soccer continues to invest for young players and creates environments in which we can develop, I think the younger players can really have an impact over the next few years.”
ussoccer.com: You are known as a, how shall we say this, “free-spirited” individual. In other words, all your teammates say you are a lot of fun to be around. Do you think of yourself as a “class clown”?
HAO: “I just try to remember not to take things too seriously, at the appropriate times of course! I just like to have a good time. The national team environment is very serious, making rosters and winning games is all very important, but at the same time I don’t think we can lose sight of enjoying each others' personalities and having fun. I play better when I’m happy and comfortable.”
ussoccer.com: At the same time, you are super serious and competitive on the field and known for your intense game face. How do you balance the two Heathers?
HAO: “When it’s time to walk on the field, it’s all business. I try my best to separate my soccer life from my non-soccer life because I think that’s the healthiest way to be. I am super competitive when I’m on the field, but I try to let go of that once I leave if I’ve had a tough practice or missed a goal. I just to try to do things 100 percent whether it’s on or off the field.”
ussoccer.com: You won the USL W-League title with the New Jersey Wildcats this past summer. How was the experience?
HAO: “It was really good. Everyone involved in the club is really dedicated to putting together a good environment for the players. They brought in a lot of international talent and I think the summer helped me become a better player. Plus, getting some of my college teammates to play in my home state of New Jersey was pretty cool. I got to show them a lot of my old stomping grounds.”
ussoccer.com: We hear that your hometown of East Brunswick, N.J., is going to name a field after you, following in the line of some of your older teammates. We’re pretty sure that Tim Howard from North Brunswick doesn’t have a field named after him. It must be a great honor for your hometown to do that?
HAO: “It’s very flattering and a big honor. East Brunswick has been my foundation. I played there until I was 14 and that’s where I gained my love for the game. Since then, all the people there have been so supportive. I couldn’t ask for a better hometown.”
ussoccer.com: Your best buddy, UNC and national team teammate Lindsay Tarpley has rebounded well from an injury early in the college season. How’s she looking?
“She’s looking great. I think she’s close to being back playing 100 percent. All the pieces of her game are coming together and she’s working hard every day at practice. She’s looking good, and that is good news for the Tar Heels and for the national team.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve won an NCAA title, a FIFA U-19 World Championship and an Olympic gold medal. Can you tell us the similarities or differences in your emotions after each win?
HAO: “All three are equally important to me and mean a lot to me. The Olympics is obviously the pinnacle of all sport and for me to be a part of that with people I looked up to my entire life, and to win a gold medal in Greece, where the Olympics originated, everything was so perfect and so powerful. The U-19s was special in another way, because it was so youthful and innocent. It was the biggest event any of us had ever been a part of. Tracey Leone did a great job with us, molding us together as a team, and it was just such an exciting thing for young players. That experience and that tournament will always hold a special place in my heart. The NCAA title is obviously special in its own way as well, just because of the university atmosphere that is behind that and the social aspect of playing for your school. Going back to campus and being a national champion brings a lot of pride with it. But I can’t place more importance on one over the other. They are all very important to me.”
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