Kelley O’Hara is going to her fourth World Cup, but for the 34-year-old veteran defender, it still feels like her very first time.
“I’m so excited to be going and for this to be my fourth World Cup,” O’Hara said. “Even though it is my fourth, it feels like my first and the excitement levels are to that degree.”
Even with that excitement, O’Hara is keenly aware how crucial her experience and leadership will be on this young U.S. Women’s National Team roster. With the absence of centerback Becky Sauerbrunn who was ruled out due to injury, O’Hara will be called upon as one of the leaders to help this team to a possible fifth World Cup title.
“With being one of the oldest players in the team and one of the most experienced, I think I’m gonna bring experience,” O’Hara said. “I know how these things go. I know how wild and crazy of a ride it is. I know what it takes to win.”
O’Hara has been a known quantity on the national team for some time. Although she played smaller roles in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, her impact on the 2019 tournament was vital for the U.S. to earn their fourth title. In 2022, she became the 23rd player in U.S. history to play more than 10,000 minutes for the USWNT.
With her veteran experience comes a top-tier vision of the game. O’Hara’s ability to get involved in the attack, make well-timed tackles, cross balls into the box, and set up her teammates for success is palpable whether she’s a starter or coming off the bench. In her 157 appearances for the USWNT, the fullback has scored three times and recorded an impressive 21 assists.
O’Hara wasn’t always a defender, a fact that is seen in the way she plays. At the youth level and in college, O’Hara was a consistent goal scorer and even played an attacking role during the early days of her professional career. In 2012, she was converted into an outside back and has been pivotal in that role ever since.
At the club level, O’Hara has been equally prolific. She has played in the National Women’s Soccer League since its inaugural season in 2013. Over the course of her NWSL career she has played for NJ/NY Gotham FC (formerly Sky Blue FC), the Washington Spirit, and the Utah Royals.
In 2022, she scored the game-winning goal for the Washington Spirit in the NWSL Championship. Now with Gotham FC, her second go-around with the New Jersey-based club, O’Hara has made the most out of the first half of the season to prepare herself for the World Cup. Coming off an injury, her time with the club became even more important to her call-up.
“Gotham has played a huge part in me being able to make this roster and being healthy and getting back from injury, which was really, really tough with a lot of question marks along the road,” O’Hara said. “[Gotham’s staff] were super patient with me. They were so supportive through the offseason and into preseason and just understood what I was going through and what I needed. They have been the most supportive and I probably wouldn’t be on [the USWNT World Cup roster] if I was with any other team right now.”