Heather O’Reilly (commonly known as “HAO”) last played in the NWSL in 2016 with FC Kansas City. She actually spent two seasons with the club, including the 2015 NWSL championship-winning season, before signing with Arsenal Women in January 2017.
In her four seasons in the NWSL, O’Reilly was allocated by U.S. Soccer as a federation player. O’Reilly retired from international soccer in September 2016 after 231 caps, three Olympic gold medals, and a World Cup title. When O’Reilly left to play overseas in England, FC Kansas City maintained her rights if she ever returned to the league.
With FCKC ceasing operations last November, Utah Royals FC, which took KC’s spot in the league inherited all FCKC players’ rights, including contracts and rights to players like Heather O’Reilly.
Yesterday, it was announced that O’Reilly would not return to Arsenal after spending the last two seasons in England.
And this is where it could get interesting for the Royals. Should O’Reilly decide to return to the NWSL or Laura Harvey decides to pursue her, Utah Royals FC have Heather O’Reilly’s rights considering FCKC maintained them when she left for Arsenal in 2017, and Utah absorbed all contracts & players’ rights.
So, what are the possibilities for O’Reilly and URFC?
Possibility #1: O’Reilly decides to return to NWSL and plays in Utah.
This is definitely something Royals fans would want to see happen. O’Reilly is one of the most successful USWNT players and well-known for her playing style and work ethic. She could very well provide that boost to the offense the Royals have been trying to find all season. O’Reilly is not only a goal scorer, with 47 international goals and 32 during her club career, but she also provides significant support from the flanks.
But in order for this to happen, O’Reilly must want to come to Utah, and/or Laura Harvey must want to sign her to the club.
Possibility #2: O’Reilly returns to the league and Utah trades her rights
O’Reilly, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill alumna, lives in North Carolina with her husband, and it is where she spends her off-season. It could well be that she wants to play to closer to home, and that club close to home is the North Carolina Courage. At this point in O’Reilly’s career, there is nothing wrong with wanting to play closer to her husband. (That is one of the reasons Carli Lloyd was traded from Houston to Sky Blue FC in January).
However, at the top of the league, undefeated this season so far through ten games, the Courage are definitely not hurting for attacking players. How would O’Reilly fit into Riley’s plans when everything is going pretty well? However, should they want to bring her to North Carolina, this could play well for the Royals to trade her rights for an offensive player that could help Utah this season and in the long term.
Possibility #3: O’Reilly decides to retire
O’Reilly had a phenomenal career with the U.S. Women’s National Team from 2002-2016, winning three Olympic gold medals (2004, 2008, 2012) and a World Cup (2015) during her 14-year career.
She has also helped two professional clubs win championships while playing in the WPS and NWSL. In 2009, O’Reilly scored the winning goal in the WPS championship game for Sky Blue FC, and in 2015 with FCKC, she assisted in Amy Rodriguez’s game-winning header in the NWSL Championship, crossing from the left side.
Recently, with Arsenal Women, O’Reilly made 38 appearances during her 18 months in north London, scoring four goals and winning a Continental Cup.
O’Reilly could decide she has done enough in her career and announce her retirement.
Maybe she wants to finish her career in the NWSL, rejoining some of her teammates from FC Kansas City in Utah or playing in North Carolina.
While we ponder all these possibilities, we wait.