One of the greatest players in UNC and USA soccer history is coming home. On Thursday, it was reported that Heather O’Reilly is to become the newest member of Anson Dorrance’s coaching staff on the UNC Women’s Soccer team.
To fans of both Carolina and the USWNT, O’Reilly needs little introduction. An erstwhile midfielder on some of the greatest women’s teams ever, “HAO” was known for her brilliant crossing, her boundless energy, and her iconic game face. She will go down in history as a legend both for UNC and for the National team.
O’Reilly came to Chapel Hill in 2003 as one of the most highly touted recruits Anson Dorrance has ever had. She lived up to the hype and more, helping to lead the Tar Heels to an undefeated championship season and scoring eight goals in the NCAA Tournament (the most ever by a UNC player). She was the unanimous Freshman Player of the Year. The next three years she was a first-team All-American and would finish off her career at UNC with another national title in 2006.
O’Reilly reached international acclaim with the National team, being one of the youngest players ever to earn a cap in 2002, when she was just 17. In the 2004 Olympics, she scored one of the great goals in US Soccer history; an overtime winner in the semifinals to defeat Germany, the reigning world champions. Much of her international career is noted for her attacking partnership with Abby Wambach, the iconic USA striker with whom she earned the nickname “Thunder (Wambach) and Lightning (O’Reilly)”. Many of Wambach’s record-setting goals were headers that came from O’Reilly crosses. The pair of them won their long-awaited World Cup as veteran leaders of the 2015 team.
Domestically, she won both the WPS (now disbanded) and the NWSL Championships. After retiring, she was a studio analyst for the 2019 World Cup, where the USWNT successfully defended their title.
When players come to play for Anson Dorrance at UNC, they dream of collegiate, club, AND international success. It is no different for this year’s squad. They dream of being the next Crystal Dunn, the next Tobin Heath, the next Mia Hamm, or the next Heather O’Reilly. They couldn’t have a better mentor.