World Cup champion Kelley O’Hara is home. Well, sort of.
Last year, O’Hara, a star on the U.S. Women’s National Team, moved to the area during the National Women’s Soccer League offseason while competing for Utah Royals FC. (The Royals have since been dissolved and relocated to Kansas City.) And after months of negotiations, the Washington Spirit announced last week that O’Hara will be joining the team, merging her personal and professional life into one city.
“It’s now my first home,” O’Hara told reporters Friday. “I moved here last year to be with my partner. So this is home for me and this is my city. I obviously grew up in Georgia. I’ve lived in Atlanta. I’ve lived all over the country. And I was maybe not skeptical of D.C. but wasn’t sure what to expect. And since moving here, I’ve loved every second of it. I love the city. Love the energy it brings. Love what it has to offer. And I think if I didn’t like it as much, I probably wouldn’t have maybe made this move … This is home for me now. So I want this to be not only my home off the field in the offseason, but now it’s home year round. And I get to play for this club that is part of the city, and I couldn’t be more happy about that.”
O’Hara, 32, immediately becomes the most recognizable name on the team and gives the Spirit back some star power after the team traded Mallory Pugh to Sky Blue FC and lost World Cup hero Rose Lavelle, who now plays for Manchester City Women’s Football Club in England.
In O’Hara, the team gets a leader and also a player with championship experience. The negotiations, as Steven Goff of the Washington Post reported, were stalled for long periods this fall, as Utah wanted a young star from the Spirit in return. Washington wasn’t willing to part with that and instead agreed to send $75,000 in allocation money as well as a conditional first-round pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft.
“This trade, this deal took a while to get over the line, but I’m just really thankful it did,” O’Hara said. “It’s the best Yuletide present I think I’ve ever received, so I’m just thankful that it finally got to a place where I can now call D.C. my home off the field, but now on the field as well.”
O’Hara has yet to get on the field with the Spirit, but she got to play against the team this summer during the NWSL Challenge Cup and admired what she saw from coach Richie Burke’s squad. The desire to be with the Spirit wasn’t about wanting to leave her Utah team, O’Hara said, but rather wanting to play for “this particular Spirit team and playing for Richie.” In August, the Athletic reported that Royals FC owner, Dell Loy Hansen, has had a history of alleged racist comments.
“I just remember this summer in the Challenge Cup, watching the team play and being almost envious and excited for them because of the way they were playing, the energy on the field, just the style of soccer,” she said. “So I think that Richie has done a very good job. And the ownership here is putting the pieces together to get this club to where it needs to be to win an NWSL championship.”
O’Hara has been a key player on two World Cup winning teams in 2015 and 2019 and won an Olympic gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
Burke believes that bringing in a veteran player with a championship pedigree like O’Hara will be a big improvement for the team that also has the No. 2 and No. 9 overall pick in the 2021 NWSL Draft to be held next month.
“There’s a couple of ways of looking at it, you can go and bring a young 21, 22-year-old kid into your football club and try and teach them to be a pro. Or you can bring in an established world class superstar that is a pro and can help young players become better pros,” Burke said. “For us, we decided with this acquisition to go down that road first, which made us, I think, certainly better right away. And now we’ll try and add to that. We’ll supplement it with certain types of players. Kelley’s addition gives us a lot of flexibility, because she’s so versatile, she can play a wingback, a fullback, and a lot of other positions as well.”
Andi Sullivan, a co-captain for the Spirit and a fellow national team player, looks forward to learning from O’Hara.
“I just feel like a kid around the Yuletide season, just like so excited to get on the field,” Sullivan said. “I’ve seen Kelley train every single day, and her mentality is so huge. I can’t wait for that to spread throughout our club … She is a winner, and I think her perspective is going to be huge as a leader.”