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American Hero, HAO, Talks NC Courage’s NWSL Championship with Rog

The North Carolina Courage just wrapped up one of the greatest club team season’s of all-time, overpowering the Portland Thorns 3-0 in last weekend’s NWSL final. Rog caught up with GFOP Heather O’Reilly yesterday when she had just returned home to North Carolina, and was about to have the entire U.S. Women’s National Team over to her home for a barbecue.

ROG: HAO. You are capping a record breaking season, in which North Carolina Courage won a Treble, set new season marks for most wins, fewest losses, most points, most goals scored, fewest goals allowed, most shutouts, and probably, most records broken in an entire season. What was the secret to success?

HAO: I joined the team mid-season, coming in from Arsenal at the end of our campaign in May. I had never worked with Coach Paul Riley or most of the players on Courage. It was the team I knew the least in the NWSL, and that was partially due to age — it’s a young team — but the moment I stepped on the training pitch for the first time, I realized we were dominant athletically. A fit, fast, and willing team. Those are the three components that pushed us over the line.

ROG: You were a veteran on this young team. You knew when you arrived you would have limited playing time. Did you take on mentoring role?

HAO: I did. Anyone who knows me knows me, I am going to bust my ass every training session and always stay positive. Everyone had great attitude already before I arrived, but I am able to keep players going. Like Lynn Williams, who is bagging goals for club at will, but is not getting a look in at national level. I can say a few words that can keep her going. McCall Zerboni who was the heart of the team until she suffered a fractured shoulder. These are hard moments. And in those hard moments, I can help.

ROG: You are a North Carolinian by transplant. With Hurricane Florence descending upon the region, forcing you to play the semifinal on the road, did playing for The Carolinas add an extra dimension of meaning to the victory?

HAO: Paul Riley told us in our pre-game before both the semifinal and the final that you are always repping more than yourself. That we were repping the state and had to carry its resilience onto the field and bring some some joy to some people who are going through tough times. The semifinal being moved from our home gave us a chip on our shoulder.

ROG: I was blown away by your victory Tweet, “I have been on a lot of teams. World Cup teams. Olympic teams. Club teams. This team worked hard and was more positive and together than I can ever remember. A real honor to be part of it Ps - winning is fun.” You have won so much, earned so many caps, experienced so much life. Is that really true?

HAO: My whole career, from the University North Carolina to the U.S. National Team has been based on these values: Looking the opponent in the eye and saying, “I will work harder than you and lay myself out for my teammates more than you will.” Those components have always been part of the teams I have been on. But this team was next level and it came from the training pitch. This core group of players, a couple of years ago, would have been considered misfits or unpolished. That gave us a common bond, an underdog mentality, that chip on the shoulder to keep churning. There was just no stopping the group until it was over.

ROG: Your coach Paul Riley’s mantra for the NC Courage this season was “No finish line.” What does a team that has no finish line do when it hits the finish line?

HAO: *Laughs* Good question. Not to get too philosophical, but this goes for both football and life. UNC coach Anson Dorrance says, "Try to live your life on a never ending ascension,” meaning new experiences, new people, new challenges. No finish line means you don't stop adding to yourself as a footballer or as a person. There is not a finish line. Always grow. Always learn. In football and in life.

ROG: Is there a finish line for Heather O’Reilly?

HAO: I think I got another season in me.

ROG: Yes!