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11 Questions With Heather O'Reilly

Heather O’Reilly is having a heck of a year. She’s coming off an MVP performance at the Four Nations Tournament in China and a two-goal effort at the Algarve Cup in March. As the USA prepares to enter qualifying for the 2008 Olympics, O’Reilly sat down with to preview the tournament and talk about her role as a winger under Pia Sundhage, another winger named C. Ronaldo, and going back to North Carolina for the USA’s first domestic match of 2008 (tickets available on Let’s talk about the first game of Olympic Qualifying against Jamaica. You have never faced Jamaica at any level with the U.S. National Teams. What kind of game are you expecting?

Heather O’Reilly: “My experience with Caribbean teams is that they are going to be passionate and energetic. They are going to embrace the opportunity to play the U.S. so we need to be ready to counter that energy.” Qualifying matches are “get a result or go home” type of games. How do you, as an athlete, respond to that kind of pressure?

HAO: “I think it’s important not to get overwhelmed with the future. It’s so critical to focus on this tournament and the next game, not the coming months, as if we don’t produce here, we don’t get to go to the Olympics. You must focus on the immediate task at hand even though it’s hard at times. We believe in our abilities and our preparation, and if we do that, we will go into every game with confidence.” The U.S. team has played in front of some partisan crowds before – at the 2007 Women’s World Cup it seemed the entire stadium was rooting for North Korea – but the U.S. doesn’t often play in an environment where everyone is rooting against them. What kind of experience is that?

HAO: “I think it’s a new challenge for us because only recently have we faced crowds that are very much against us. It definitely gets you fired up to hear crowds cheer against you, but I just get pumped up if there is a big crowd in general. One thing I think is cool is that no matter how many people are cheering against us, this group of 20 players is so close-knit that in the end, we believe in each other and it’s us that control our own fate, not the crowd.” The team has played in China, Portugal and now Mexico this year. What’s the key to life on the road as a WNT player?

HAO: “It’s easy to get into a routine or a groove and not be appreciative of every day you have playing for your national team, so the key to being on the road all the time is finding things that are interesting and that excite you. You can’t take this experience for granted. Having that kind of attitude helps make every day fun.” You won the MVP at the Four Nations Cup in China without scoring a goal in the tournament. I know that surprised you a bit, but it also brought some validation, yes?

HAO: “Growing up as a forward and goal scorer, I was always judged by the amount of balls I put in the back of the net, so it was a big honor and flattering to get that award without getting a goal. It gave me confidence that I was contributing to the team in other ways, and in the end, it’s about your team winning the game.” We know you watch soccer on TV as much as you can. What current forwards from around the world are your favorites?

HAO: “Right now Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world. His ability to take on players has always been world class, but right now his ability to score all kinds of different goals from everywhere on the field is just separating him from everyone else. I also kind-of dig Emmanuel Adebayor from Arsenal because he makes teams always have to worry about him. Those are players that I look to model my game after.” When you are not on the road, you are currently living in New York City. What are some of the best and worst things about living in the Big Apple?

HAO: “It’s a city like no other. The amount of things to do and the energy the city has is unmatched in the whole world. I’ve had a lot of fun trying out new restaurants, going to museums and seeing shows. I love the shopping - it’s incredible - and I love going for runs in Central Park. It’s my favorite part of the whole city. You can never have a boring day in New York. Sometimes, the city brings me down because everyone is in such a rush to go somewhere. I’m a bit more laid back than most New Yorkers, so I want to say, ‘Hey, what’s the big rush?’ Sometimes I just want to order a sandwich and not be stressed out about it.” For a long time, you were the youngest player on the National Team after debuting at age 17. Now Stephanie Cox, Amy Rodriguez, Tobin Heath and Lauren Cheney are all younger than you. Do you see some of the young Heather in them?

HAO: “Of course. I see them procrastinating on writing their papers and that reminds me of my college days. But all those girls have done an awesome job mixing in with the group and acting professional, which I hope I did when I was younger.” You are playing as more of an outside midfielder/true winger under Pia Sundhage. How’s life on the flank?

HAO: “I love it. I have a lot of freedom out there and although I need to go back and defend more than I was as a forward, I feel I have a lot more freedom to attack from that position. Changing positions is always a challenge, but I really want to be great in that spot for the team this year.” You recently played an excellent April Fools joke on Cat Whitehill. (See the WNT Blog to read all about it). Do tell.

HAO: “Like myself, Cat Whitehill is a huge Tar Heels basketball fan. Tobin Heath and I decided in warm-ups to tell her that Tyler Hansbrough got a high ankle sprain in practice and was unable to play in the semifinals of the Final Four. Obviously Cat freaked out a bit and then we broke the news that it was just an April Fools joke. Looking back, it was kind of mean joke and I hope that Tyler leads UNC to a NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!!!” The U.S. team is going to play its first domestic match of the year on April 27 in Cary, N.C., a place that holds a lot of fond memories for you. You played college soccer there and it’s also the stadium where you scored your first goal for the WNT. We assume you are looking forward to the match.

HAO: “The stadium in Cary is very special to me. I’ve won two National Championships there for UNC and scored my very first goal there against Italy. I love Chapel Hill very much. It’s my favorite place in America and I’m really excited to be back in a place I’ll always call home.”