Chatting with Kelley O’Hara; a familiar name in a new position, pt. I

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Kelley O’Hara is fast becoming a permanent fixture in the United States Women’s National Team squad. She was a prolific goalscorer for the Stanford Cardinal before scoring six goals in her rookie season in Women’s Professional Soccer. The 23 year-old has since transitioned to outside back. What’s the experience been like? We couldn’t help but ask.

What’s the USWNT’s mindset like heading into this upcoming tournament in Sweden?

Now that the Olympic team has been named, it’s kind of been a weight off of everyone’s shoulders. We can now move forward with those 18 players and four alternates and really build and work on exactly what we need to before London. We have games against Sweden and Japan so those will be good practice games. So, just coming together as a team and knowing this is our squad going into the Olympics and building from that.

You’ve been named to the Olympics squad. You’ve been involved with the senior national team for about a year and a half now, but was it still a surprise to you to get named to the squad?

Last year I would have been more shocked if I had made it and it was not fun getting cut [she later made the World Cup squad after replacing the injured Lindsay Tarpley], but this year I felt more confident. I felt I had gotten more playing time as opposed to last year. I just felt a lot better going into it this year than last year. It ended up working out. It’s weird because everyone’s like, ‘It’s so exciting. Isn’t it crazy?’ and I just think it’s the natural progression of things. I won’t really take time to enjoy it all until after, and hopefully we’ll have a gold medal.

You made your name as an attacker but have recently played at outside back. What’s that transition been like for you?

It’s been very interesting. I’ve never, ever played outside back before so it was definitely a shock and a big transition. But at the end of the day, it’s all soccer and I’m having a blast adapting to it. It’s a challenge and I love a challenge. It’s kept me intrigued and interested because every day at practice I say, ‘Okay, today I have this, this, and this to work on and I know I need to get better in these areas.’ It’s just kept me a student of the game. I can see progress and that’s exciting.

What’s been the most challenging thing to adjust to?

The mindset, maybe. As a defender you’re the last line. It’s weird because if you’re not playing it you don’t realize how important it is to complete passes and take care of the ball in dangerous situations. In the final third you can play risky balls and it’s okay if your passes don’t complete because you have ten people behind the ball to stop you from scoring a goal. I think that for me that’s something I have to focus on. Pia has continually talked to me about completing passes and being smart and not taking too many risks when I’m in the back.

When you were an attacker you liked to play on the wing, so there’s a similarity between the two positions. Do you find yourself having to fight the instinct to go forward and attack? Against the last friendly against China you did put forth some overlapping runs and got involved in the attack.

Pia has me back there because she wants me to attack. She wants the outside backs to be involved in the attack. She says she doesn’t want to squander my attacking mentality. I’ve just had to pick and choose my time to go, but at the same time it’s very much encouraged by her to go forward and attack. I think that’s why I enjoy the position as much as I do because I still have the opportunity to get into the final third.

When did Pia first approach you about making that switch?

[Last] November in our camp in Phoenix. She had talked about it very briefly a couple times before, but the first time I started playing back there and practicing in camps was back in November.

And what was your first reaction when she brought it up with you?

I was like ‘Hey, I’m down to try whatever, let’s do it.’ I can’t complain. If I’m going to have an opportunity to play and if this is where [Pia] sees me best-suited to help the team, then let’s do it.

Tune in for the second part in a bit. In the meantime, here’s a video of O’Hara providing some quality service.