It's not easy being a champ.
Heather O'Reilly, a.k.a. HAO, scored the game-winning goal at the Women's Professional Soccer championship match last year and won Sky Blue FC the title. She's also a member of the U.S. Women's National Team, the No. 1 team in the world, where she won two Olympic gold medals.
In college, she played for UNC, the winningest team in college soccer, and she helped the Tar Heels capture two NCAA College Cup titles. She also led the New Jersey Wildcats to the W-League Championship in 2005.
Yet O'Reilly, a WPS all-star and MVP of the league's championship match, believes being a champion means having a target on your back. Other teams will be out to get you and try to snatch the title from your hands.
As she lounges in a New Jersey airport, safe from any soccer player trying to steal her championship ring, O'Reilly catches up with Bleacher Report to talk about Sky Blue FC, what she's been doing during the league's offseason, and how she's gearing up for the Algarve Cup.
Kat Galsim: First of all, congratulations on making it on the Algarve Cup roster.
Heather O'Reilly: Oh, thank you! It's obviously an honor to be in the U.S. team, so I'm excited about it.
KG: I heard it's also one of the national team's favorite tournaments.
HAO: Yeah! We like going there and playing; it's good competition. Some of the best teams in the world go to play. So we always get some good matches, and usually, it's a fun trip—just the area that we're in in Portugal. And we're not too far from Spain, so the last couple of years, we've gone on a day trip to Spain. So we enjoy going there, and hopefully, it will be a little bit warmer than it is in New Jersey right now.
KG: How was the recent national team camp?
HAO: The camp a couple of weeks ago was three weeks long, and it was to get good training and to ultimately pick the roster for the Algarve Cup. It went well. We got some good training out there in L.A., and we're not together as the national team as much as we used to be, so we see the importance of every single time that we're together as a team.
And it's always great to play with so many of my Sky Blue teammates. I think going to the Algarve Cup, there'll be four of us from Sky Blue FC, so that's obviously exciting. But I think that the national team is just, you know, we're excited to start Season Two [of WPS]. You could tell people are already getting a little competitive and are looking forward to getting with their club teams and starting the weekend battles.
KG: How has your training been, preparing for the Algarve Cup, with Dawn Scott's training program?
HAO: Oh, yup. Our coach, Pia Sundhage, has hired a new coach for the national team, and she'll be in charge of tracking our fitness and our diet and our weight and all that kind of stuff. Getting us all working our best, putting us in our best shape. So that's new; but yeah, it's pretty intense, I would say. Just intense training sessions, and they wanted to push us quite a bit. Especially at the end because they know that we're all kind of in cold weather climate, [so] they tried to get the most out of us at that time that we had together there in that warm weather in Southern California so that obviously we'll be ready for the Algarve Cup.
We had two scrimmages against South Korea and that one scrimmage against a boys' team. I think a boys' U-16 team. We usually do that every weekend of camp, have a big scrimmage. And then again, of course, all the training sessions and intersquad scrimmages.
KG: So how has the offseason been treating you?
HAO: It was great. I had a really good offseason. I went back to school at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and I finished my degree this fall, so that was a good thing to wrap up. Because of the national team schedule and the league, it was hard for me to finish up my final semester, so I was happy to kinda get that wrapped up. And I finished my education degree, so I spent about four months in the classroom with seventh- graders. So that was a new challenge for me.
You know, it's always been "soccer, soccer, soccer." and for me to have kind of a new challenge ahead of me of working with a bunch of 12 year-olds, it pushed me in different ways, I guess.
And then after that was done, in November I went on a nice vacation to Australia with my boyfriend and some friends. And then fun's over; it's back to work now.
KG: And you also went to Germany?
HAO: Oh, yeah! The Germany trip fit in there, as well. Yeah, turned out to be quite the busy fall. I didn't think it would be quite as busy with the national team, but it turned out that we had two camps and the Germany trip in the fall. So I guess we've been going pretty much year-round, but we had a bit of time off in November. That was basically our only month off through the whole year.
KG: How do you think Sky Blue fared at the college draft and the dispersal draft?
HAO: I think that [Head Coach] Pauliina [Miettinen] definitely did her research, and I think that she's very excited to start. And up to this point, it's just been about watching players and kind of doing the behind-the-scenes stuff. And I think that even though she'd rather be up on the field, I'm sure, getting practices in, I think that she's done a great job assembling a team.
I think that we're fortunate to have a good core of our team from last year, and now with the additions of Carli Lloyd, and then Brittany Taylor, who we picked up in the college draft, to solidify our back line. And then, of course, a fellow Tar Heel of mine, Nikki Washington, to get picked up in the dispersal draft, was huge. I think that that just adds incredible depth for us. So I'm definitely liking where our team's at and our strength. I think we have a really excellent team.
But, on the other hand, you look at a lot of these other rosters throughout the league, and you say the same things about them. Obviously for Marta to be going to the Bay Area strengthens their program, and St. Louis is another team that you just look at and think, wow, there's some serious collection of really world-class players on that team. And across the board.
And I just think that that speaks a lot for the league, the improvement that the league made in just one season. I mean, it was a great level last year, but I think that we really improved the strength of each and every team this season. So that'll only just make the games and the competition more competitive.
KG: How do you think the team will keep the chemistry that helped make you win the championship last season, especially with Christie Rampone out?
HAO: I think that we definitely have to hold on to a lot of the principles that we had last year and some of the standards that we held our team to—and that was to be always the most hardworking and maybe gritty team out there. And I think that's what led us to the championship in the end, as we had been through quite a bit of adversity throughout the season. And that only kind of made us a harder and tougher team to crack.
So I think that we need to sort of grab on to what worked for us last year and just grow as a team. I mean, we are gonna be a different team in Season Two—I know that—but at the same time, I think we need to just build on the foundation that we laid at Sky Blue FC.
KG: What should Sky Blue fans look forward to this coming season?
HAO: That's a great question. I think that there's only one league champion out there, and that's us. I think that we're gonna have a target on our back. People are gonna be out to get us; I mean, we won the whole thing last year. So I think that we will be the team to beat.
I think that we're hopefully gonna score a lot of world-class goals. We have some of the best goal scorers out there with Natasha Kai and Carli Lloyd and Rosanna firing our attack. So hopefully, there'll be some great goals scored, but mostly, I just think that the fans are gonna see exciting soccer and incredible growth in the level from last season—which is a lot to say.
And just like the other Q&A's, here's Round Two, where O'Reilly answers some random questions.
KG: What does the "A" stand for in HAO? Awesome? Heather "Awesome" O'Reilly?
HAO: Ha! Good question. It's not officially in my birth certificate, "awesome," but I'm very flattered that you think that might stick. I may have to go by that now. But it's officially "Ann."
KG: If you were to choose between spending the weekend in a Dharma station or in the Schrute Beet Farm, which would you choose?
HAO: (Laughs) Oh, man. I definitely would have to say the Schrute Beet Farm because the Dharma Station definitely creeps me out. Gotta love The Office . And I feel like I could relate to Dwight [Schrute]'s weirdness a little bit.
KG: So I guess you're not a big fan of polar bears and smoke monsters then?
HAO: Yeah, that kinda creeps me a little bit. I was a huge fan of Lost in Season One, and even Two. And, like most Lost fans, I got lost and got over it quickly.
KG: When you were making your tour videos for U.S. soccer, did you get a lot of curious looks from other people?
HAO: Actually, surprisingly not. I don't know if people just thought we were like maybe a news station or something, but nobody bothered us, so that made for some funny, candid moments.
KG: If I were to visit Chapel Hill, N.C., for the first time, which place should I go first?
HAO: I would definitely say to check out the soccer field, just because it's pretty legendary what the [UNC] program has accomplished. Restaurant-wise, I'd say to check out 411. That's my favorite restaurant in town. And if it's a warm, sunny day, and you're over the age of 21, I would say to check out a bar called He's Not Here, which is one of the best ways to spend your Sunday afternoon.
KG: Judging from the U.S. soccer videos, it looks like your teammates love pulling pranks on you. Why is that?
HAO: (Laughs) Good question. I guess I'm one of those people that's a little bit naive, and I wear my heart on my sleeve. What you see is what you get. I'm very much out there. So I think that people, first of all, know that they can play a joke on me, and that they'll hopefully get a good laugh out of it in the end. And also, they probably know that I'm a bit gullible.
KG: Is the glass half empty or half full?
HAO: I mean, I'd of course want to say I look at the world in a positive light, and I always at least try to. That's the only way that you can do it. But I think that I fight a lot of testaments, but I always try to see the light in everything.
KG: Being a Jersey girl, could you give me your thoughts on the show Jersey Shore ?
HAO: Umm yeah, I mean, I think I'm proud of the state of New Jersey in terms of a lot of things. I loved growing up there, I have a lot of great friends, a lot of great memories, a lot of great soccer played in New Jersey. Not as proud of the show Jersey Shore . But at the same time, I lived the Jersey Shore. That was me in high school down there, rockin' out at the beach. So I don't have to watch it on television, that's for sure.
KG: You played for UNC, the winningest team in college soccer. Now you play for Sky Blue FC, the reigning WPS champion, and the United States, the No. 1 team in the world. Do you think these teams have a winning track record because of you? Ha!
HAO: (Laughs) Absolutely not! I'm just a small, small, small piece in this huge puzzle. But I definitely consider myself fortunate that I've been on all those winning teams. I don't know; I guess hopefully just try my best and hope that it's contagious. But I've been fortunate to just been with really great teammates and very competitive people, so I'm definitely lucky on that side.
KG: Don't you ever get tired of winning championships? (I kid!)
HAO: Oh, never. Never gets old. Absolutely never gets old. And the best thing about winning championships, your opponents are always out for you. You know, in Carolina, we used to say that every team would basically circle our name on their schedule and get up for our games. So when you think about it, you're basically getting every team's best performance. So you definitely take that as a compliment.
Watch Heather O'Reilly and Sky Blue FC as they try to defend their title this season. The team's home opener will be on Sunday, April 11, 2010. Visit their Web site for more information.
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