Sept. 11, 2007
THE O'REILLY FACTOR
She scores a key goal for the U.S. again
Chengdu, China -- In her five years with the U.S. National Team, forward Heather O'Reilly has scored but a dozen international goals. But she seems to find the back of the net when the Americans need it the most.
In 2004, O’Reilly connected for the winning goal in the U.S.'s 2-1 victory over Germany in the Olympic semifinals en route to a gold medal.
On Tuesday, she struck in the 69th minute to help the outplayed U.S. salvage a 2-2 draw with North Korea in a Group B opening match of the Women's World Cup in Chengdu, China.
The tie gave the top-ranked Americans, favorites to win their third world championship, a point along with the fifth-ranked Koreans.
“We are walking away with our heads high," O'Reilly said. "We got a point and that is important at this stage in the tournament. We got the first game nerves out of the way and under our belt. We just need wins from here on out. . . This team is capable of that.”
The 22-year-old East Brunswick, N.J. native made sure the U.S. has not lost a first-round match in five WWCs. The U.S. is 11-0-2. The only other tie was a 3-3 draw with China at Sweden '95.
Just as important, the goal was retribution for O'Reilly missing the 2003 WWC after breaking her leg in an international friendly only months prior to the U.S.-hosted tournament. At the time, O'Reilly was attending the University of North Carolina, but she was expected to get permission to play for the U.S. during the tournament.
“It is a pretty great feeling," she said of the goal. "Pretty awesome. This is every kid’s dream. Surprisingly, though, I really went out there with a calmness. I think I felt most nervous during the national anthems . . . In the end, it is just soccer.”
Midfielder Lori Chalupny dribbled about 30 yards before sending the ball to Kristine Lilly out on the left flank. Lilly sent a cross into the penalty area. A Korean defender got a foot on the ball, but couldn’t clear it. O’Reilly pounced on it and fired home a nine-yard shot.
“It was critical," U.S. coach Greg Ryan said. "I had a great feeling about Heather. I’m so proud of her. I thought she had a fantastic game overall tonight, and she got the goal on top of it.”
O'Reilly's goal saved the U.S. from an embarrassing loss with another tough opponent -- Sweden -- looming Friday (ESPN, 5 a.m.).
“We have faced Sweden pretty frequently," O'Reilly said. "I think we just need to play our game a little bit more. I think that North Korea might have played their game better than we played our game today. If we do our things right, we should be able to move forward in the tournament.”