After playing every minute of the Olympics and winning a gold medal last summer, Kelley O’Hara will be leading the attack for Sky Blue FC when the team opens its NWSL season today. It’s not exactly new for O’Hara, a MAC Hermann Trophy-winning forward at Stanford, but all of those minutes played in the Olympics, and almost all her minutes in the national team jersey since 2012 have been as a defender.
On Friday, O’Hara took a break from team practice with Sky Blue to speak with NWSL News on the phone about getting comfortable playing forward again, her new team and why you shouldn’t expect to see her wearing her signature No. 19 on the U.S. Women’s National Team.
How do you like being in New Jersey now and how did you feel about how the allocation turned out?
Well, New Jersey was my first choice so I was pumped to be able to come here. I’ve already enjoyed being in this area, being with the team and playing for Jim Gabarra. It’s good.
So your first choice wasn’t the west coast [where Kelley has been living] – were you looking for a change of scenery?
To be honest, I made my decision based on playing surface because I wanted to play on grass and Jersey was one of the only teams that plays their games on grass and said we’d practice on grass. So that was a big factor in my decision, to be completely honest. And I’ve also heard good things about Jim as a coach and I knew that would be good – I wanted to play for a coach that would improve my game.
I interviewed Jim Gabarra last week and he made it clear that he wants utilize you in an attacking position. You’ve been a defender on the national team for a while now – how does it feel playing forward again?
When I first got with the team in the first couple practices and even the first couple preseason games, it felt a little weird because I haven’t played that position since college, essentially. I guess I played it a little bit at Boston but… it’s weird but it’s fun and I love playing forward. So I think that for me, at the moment, I’m just going to focus on the little things and try to remember how I played when I was in college. (laughs) But I’m excited to be able to play it again and get some time up there.
Is there any concern for you having to make that switch – being called on the national team to play defender and then coming back to your club and playing forward? Is it difficult to switch from that mentality at all?
Obviously, every soccer player has their positions – you’re listed on a roster as a certain position. But, at the end of the day, we’re all soccer players. I think that it’s a bonus for me to be able to play defender for the national team and then come to my club and play forward because it makes me always have to be on. I’m not as comfortable, maybe, which might be a con, but I see it as a plus because I have to focus and I have to really work on it.
But I also think the reason I was able to do the switch to defender, and do it quickly and successfully, was because I took a lot of what I did as a forward and incorporated it into my game as a defender. For me playing that position, I’m playing against another forward and I know what they’re thinking, so I think it helped me to be able to read the game as a defender.
Right, like you can kind of get inside the mind of a forward a bit better?
Exactly. And switching between forward and defender between club and national team, I think it will be a positive because I’ll get to work on my attacking side, which the national team wants me to do as a defender and I also get time as a defender with the national team.
You seem to really stay positive, even when facing setbacks – where does that come from and how do you maintain that?
I think that’s just how I approach life in general, not just with soccer. It’s just kind of how I look at life. I tend to be a pretty happy person I think because I’m pretty thankful and I know how awesome my life is. But I think it comes from how I approach life in general, not necessarily just soccer. If I face a setback, I’ve come a long way in being able to accept it for what it is and use it as a positive, or trying to find a way to use it as a positive.
Teams haven’t had much of a preseason with the U.S. and Canadian players being away for national team duty and the Mexican players arriving later, so we can really only look on paper. But which teams are you looking forward to playing against the most and which teams are you most scared of right now?
I’m looking forward to playing every team because nobody knows how anyone’s going to play and all you have right now going into the season is a team on paper, which is the roster. A lot of times somebody may look good on paper and they’re not good in actual play. So I’m not really afraid of anybody. (laughs) I usually don’t get scared of teams.
You’ll be No. 19 for Sky Blue. It seems you’ve been 19 for all your teams except the national team. Have you ever thought about trying to make a play for 19 there too? Maybe bribe someone with Starbucks for a week or something?
(laughs) Well, I think Buehler was 19 for the World Cup. The way the numbers work is World Cup rosters are through 21 and the Olympic rosters are through 18. For me, I got 5 because it was Tarpey’s number [Lindsay Tarpley was replaced by Kelley in 2011 due to injury] so I was given that and I’ve come like it – I really like it actually because there’s five people in my family so I kind of think it’s cool and it works out well. It would be cool to be 19, but at the same time, I know if I was 19 in the World Cup I’d have to change it for the Olympics so I kind of like having a consistent number for the national team and then my pro number can stay 19 like it was in college.
You’ve already won a gold medal in the Olympics and you’re 24. What else do you really want to accomplish and where do you hope to go from here?
Well, I think the obvious answer is, win a World Cup. Everybody who plays for the national team and, even doesn’t yet, I think would agree with that and aspire to that. That’s the biggest – the biggest – thing on the horizon right now. And I look at the beginning of this season and I’m really excited about it because of the opportunity to play in a league and have a season and play for a team gives you, as a player, the chance to set goals for the immediate future and try to accomplish them. In terms of Sky Blue, I want to win a championship and have a good season and do well as a forward again – see if I’ve still got it. (laughs)
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us and good luck with the season. I think it’s going to be a great season and I think Sky Blue might surprise some people.
Yeah, I do too. I’m really excited. I think it’s going to be awesome.
Thank you again to Kelley O’Hara for taking time of our her busy schedule for this interview. Make sure to follow Kelley O’Hara on Twitter (@kohara19) as she begins her journey in the NWSL for the Sky Blue FC.