I recently was given the opportunity to chat with Sky Blue FC and US Women’s National team midfielder, Heather O’Reilly about her involvement with CooperVision, a company who is providing teens with the essential gear they need to succeed on the field, including contact lenses.
O’Reilly also discussed her thoughts on Sky Blue FC’s season thus far, her changing role on the US Women’s National team and her thoughts on the 2010 Men’s World Cup set to kick off in June.
Lauren Green: How did you get involved with CooperVision?
Heather O’Reilly: They stumbled across my contact story which was basically when I was young – I think in 7th grade – I recognized it in school that I couldn’t see the board. My mom finally decided to take me to the eye doctor and after seeing the eye doctor we realized that my vision was not at 20/20. After getting glasses and contacts it was kind of a “wow” moment that I could definitely see better and on the soccer field it really helped me. I think that I forgot that you really should be able to see the spin of the ball and you should actually be able to see your teammates’ facial expressions. And I couldn’t see that before. So I’m basically here to teach teens about healthy vision and how it can help their performance.
LG: What do you think the impact of the Gear Up Grants will be on the communities who receive them?
HO: I think that it’s a great opportunity. They’re giving away 10 $2,500 grants towards essential gear like balls, even free contact lenses. It’s obviously a great opportunity for teams and I would definitely suggest they check out the website www.mycontactsports.com.
LG: How did having the right gear – like contacts – help you on the field?
HO: Well like I said, everybody wants the best gear out there, right? You want the best cleats; you want the best lightweight attire. I think that a lot of players and a lot of teams don’t think of contact lenses as being a part of that essential gear but it truly is. You want every competitive advantage you can find and obviously having great vision is one of those advantages.
LG: Switching gears a little bit, Sky Blue FC is 2-2, so how would say the season is going so far?
HO: You know what? I think we’re off to an okay start. You know obviously the parity of the league is very strong so all the teams are good. I think that we’re happy to get some wins so far but we know that we’re a better team than we’ve been demonstrating so we’re hoping to put together some better performances. I think that we’ve seen like parts of games be really good – 20 minutes here, 25 minutes there but we’re looking to put together a 90 minute performance the way we know that we can play. It’s a long season – I was disappointed after this weekend’s loss but then you remind yourself that we do have 20 games left this season. You do have plenty of time but you want to make sure you’re getting some results in the beginning and then just continuing to grow as a team.
LG: What do you think the biggest difference between this season and last season is for this team?
HO: That’s a great question. I think the difference between this season and last season is we’ve just started off at a much farther point this year. I think just our organization of the club with Paullina putting us all on the same page early. I think that the way I feel about the team and how I feel playing next to others is sort of similar to how I felt towards the end of last season. So I think that we’re getting a jumpstart on being familiar with your teammates and team chemistry and stuff like that. So I think that we’ll only continue to get better and I think that (obviously) we went through a lot of coaching changes last year and that was a big challenge but I think that Pauliina’s done a really good job putting together this team and we should be good. I think that we’re just going to try to take one game at a time.
LG: What is it like playing against your National team teammates and your former collegiate teammates?
HO: That’s a good question. (laughs) It’s always interesting to be playing against some of my best friends and some of my longtime teammates. You get to see them before the game and after the game and it’s always nice to catch up but when the whistle blows it’s sort of all business on the field. It is tough because you know them as a player so well and they know you so well. They know all my strengths and weaknesses and tendencies on the field and sometimes it’s difficult to play against players who know you so well but it’s a lot of fun. I think that we are pretty good about being super competitive on the field and then just leaving it there. And of course those are some of my best friends in the world that I get to play against. I definitely enjoy it.
LG: Switching over to the National team – is it weird for you to be called a veteran when you’re still a younger player on the team?
HO: Yeah I think that it’s still strange. Sometimes we break up according to number of caps that we have or number of years on the team and stuff like that and I find myself towards the very top of the team. I’ve always sort of been the younger player so now that role is changing for me a bit. But it’s something that I’m trying to embrace. It was always fun being the young kid but now I feel almost a responsibility to look out for some of the younger up and coming players and to make them comfortable like some of the older girls made me comfortable coming in. Now I have a lot of experience under my belt – I’ve been to two Olympics and one World Cup – and I need to (sort of) take responsibility as a veteran player now.
LG: What was it like being called up to the full team at such a young age?
HO: I mean obviously it was a dream come true of 17 years old and being called up to play with Mia Hamm and some of my idols you know that I had (basically posters of in my bedroom and now I’m playing alongside of them. It’s essentially a kid’s dream come true. It was definitely intimidating at first and I think that it took me a couple of months to realize that I belong there. I didn’t just win a contest from a cereal box or something. This was legitimate, I was called up because I belonged there. The coach believed in me and believed what I could bring to the team. So once I found that confidence within myself, I wasn’t so nervous anymore.
In the very beginning whenever Mia Hamm or Brandi Chastain would call for the ball, I’d just give it to them immediately because it was them and I was nervous. [laughs] And then I realized that I can’t keep doing that and that I have to remain confident and believe in my abilities.
LG: You’ve been a part of the build up for two World Cups and two Olympic Games and now you’re getting ready to go through it again with the World Cup next year and the Olympics the following year. What is the most challenging aspect of the residency camps?
HO: Well I think that this year we won’t have a residency camp per say because we have the WPS. So this year will be a little bit different as opposed to the other years because we’ll be with our club teams up until probably about a month before the World Cup which will be a different approach than we’ve had the last couple of go arounds. But I think that the hardest part is maybe that everybody is competing for the spots on the roster but at the same time we’re trying to assemble Team USA. It’s kind of that balance between individually battling for your position but also at the same time putting together and building that team chemistry that’s going to help us win the World Cup.
LG: With the men’s World Cup just around the corner, what are your thoughts on the US Men’s chances of making a quarterfinal appearance or maybe even further?
HO: I like their chances. I think that Coach Bob Bradley has definitely done his homework. He came and talked to us with the women’s team when we were in LA a couple of months ago. I really like his vision for the team the way that they can play. I think he has done a really good job these last couple of years assembling a team. And some players are playing great right now – Clint Dempsey ‘s playing really well , Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, everybody looks sharp. So I do like their chances. I think that it’s going to be huge for the US in general to open up against England. I mean, what a better opening game of the World Cup for American soccer fans. So hopefully we’ll get a good result in that first game and take that momentum in the group games and I think the US will definitely advance from their group. After that I think it’s almost just a battle of wills. To just take it one game at a time and I do like their chances. I feel like this could be a breakout tournament for the US Men’s team.
After all the serious questions had been asked, I decided that some fun questions were in order.
LG: What is your funniest on-field moment?
HO: That’s a really good question. It’s always pretty funny when you try to cross the ball or switch the point of attack and you hit the ref. I hit the ref a couple of weeks ago, right in the head. So that always loosens the mood when the game is tense. But besides that, I think that like you said, it’s fun to play against your friends and your National team teammates. Sometimes when you’re in the box fighting for a ball before a corner kick, there’s some jostling that goes on and sometimes you tug at each other a little bit and just get a good laugh about it. So there’s times like that where you can have fun with the experience.
LG: What is your favorite country you’ve visited with the National team?
HO: Another great question. I really love the Scandinavian countries when I visited Sweden and Norway. I think that those two may be my favorites to travel to. I just think that the people were friendly, it was very clean, Stockholm [Sweden] is a very cool city. The food is great and I just really loved going up there. I think that it’s some place I would want to travel when I’m done with soccer. But I’d love to be able to play in Italy. That’s one place that I haven’t traveled to for soccer but I’m hoping that one day the US team will go to Italy.
LG: What is your favorite road trip activity?
HO: Yael Averbuch and I have been introduced to a game called Banana-grams recently and it’s essentially like Scrabble but you get to compete quite a bit. Some of our games have gotten pretty heated. That’s our new road trip go-to game that we have a lot of fun with. Usually it’s just sort of nice to be on the road because you have some down time to just read or do things that when you’re home you seem to not find the time to do. Sometimes I don’t mind some time in the hotel just to chill out.
LG: What is the toughest fitness test you’ve taken?
HO: That’s another great question. At UNC, we, of course, had “Fitness Tuesdays” or “Terrible Tuesdays” we would call them and those were always very, very difficult. But I think that the hardest fitness test out there is probably the Beep test. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that.
So the Beep test for us is the dreaded Beep test just because you get so nervous before it. I think it’s a very stressful lead up even though we’ve done it tons of times. You’re either fit or you’re not fit. You shouldn’t really be too nervous but for some reason, even at the professional level you’re nervous to run the Beep test. And I think that it’s just because you essentially run until your body shuts down. You can’t even stand up or see straight and that’s not a comfortable feeling for anyone. So I think that’s probably the most dreaded test.
LG: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced throughout your soccer career?
HO: In 2003 I broke my leg right before the World Cup so was unable to play and that was the first time I'd faced any serious injury. It was the first time I had to just let my body take its course. And as strong willed as you can be you can't control recovery time. I learned a great deal of patience.
LG: You switched from forward to midfield with the National team. As far as WPS goes, and playing outside mid, who is the toughest player you’ve had to defend?
HO: For me to defend? [pauses to think]. You know which player I’ve had a challenge going up against is [Washington Freedom midfielder] Sonia Bompastor. I think that she is an exceptional flank player and as a midfielder you like to spend most of your time attacking and when you spend a lot of your time defending you’re in trouble. I think that when Sonia’s playing at her best, she’s very much a threat on the flank. She’s sort of a handful but I love to play against her and compete against her.
LG: Last question. What is your favorite soccer memory?
HO: Oh I have so many of them. Let’s see. [pauses] I really hold a special place for winning the national championship at UNC my senior year. Just because it was so rewarding and cool to go out a champion at Carolina. I think that you know, not many people get to win their last game of college athletics. To go out a champion was very cool and to lead my team as a senior all the way. We lost our first game of the season that year but then we didn’t look back and won every game after that. That was really neat for me and to have Tobin Heath as a freshman that year. It was neat to guide her and to lead her and obviously to go out a champ was the best feeling.
For more information about CooperVision’s Gear Up Grants please visit http://www.mycontactsports.com/gear-up-grants.
Photo courtsey of ISI Photos
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