With a goal and ‘scary’ tackle, O’Reilly earns MVP honors

With a goal and ‘scary’ tackle, O’Reilly earns MVP honors

Heather O’Reilly (right) celebrates her game-winning goal with Natasha Kai who had the assist on the play.

CARSON, Calif. (Aug. 22, 2009) – In the 64th minute of Wednesday’s Super Semifinal, Sky Blue FC midfielder Heather O’Reilly was taken out of the match in favor of Kelly Parker and many fans couldn’t understand why player/coach Christie Rampone was removing one of her team’s stars, not to mention a National Team starter from such a critical match.

With Sky Blue FC staked to a 1-0 lead over Saint Louis Athletica at halftime of the Super Semifinal, O’Reilly had shared with her teammate and coach that her legs were feeling heavy. Nineteen minutes into the second half, Rampone decided it was best to sub O’Reilly out in hopes of aiding her recovery for a potential appearance in Saturday’s WPS Championship presented by MedImmune.

The gamble paid off.

Sky Blue FC secured the 1-0 win over Athletica and advanced to the championship where O’Reilly scored to lift Sky Blue FC to a 1-0 victory over the Sol as the New Jersey club won the inaugural WPS Championship. O’Reilly earned MVP honors for her performance.

“Both Christie and (assistant coach) Mike (Lyons) made decisions for us to win individual games but they also had the foresight of going all the way to the final,” said O’Reilly. “I think that that was really helpful. I was pretty tired in the last game and I knew that I couldn’t help the team anymore. I think that it really helped today. I felt a lot fresher.”

In the 17th minute at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., O’Reilly and her fresh legs ran to the back post as right back Keeley Dowling served the ball into the 18-yard box. Standing near the penalty spot, Natasha Kai leapt into the air.

“She got up well and got a good flick on it,” O’Reilly said. “Then the ball lands to me in front of the goal and at that point, you’re just focusing on keeping it low and getting it on frame.”

O’Reilly drove a right-footed shot off LeBlanc and into the right side of the goal.

The 24-year-old East Brunswick, N.J. native didn’t just contribute on the offensive end. In the 51st minute, Aya Miyama, the Sol’s crafty midfielder, dribbled past O’Reilly into the penalty box in pursuit of the equalizer. O’Reilly dove into a tackle from behind that poked the ball away from Miyama while sending her toppling. Referee Kari Seitz signaled for a corner drawing boos from the Sol faithful who were anticipating a penalty kick.

“That was a scary play,” O’Reilly admitted. “She’s a sneaky player and she slipped right behind me. I know that as an outside midfielder, that’s my responsibility, that’s my mark. I think I did everything I could to make the play.”

That same sentiment applies to Sky Blue FC, who earned the inaugural WPS championship despite making two coaching changes during the season and sitting in last place in the league standings as late as June 16. Sky Blue FC snuck into the post-season as the fourth seed after the Boston Breakers lost on the final day of the regular season and then reeled off three straight road wins in eight days while travelling across the country from Boyds, Md. to Fenton, Mo. to Carson, Calif.

“You never wish that you went through so many ups and downs that we went through this season, but I think in the end it’s so character building,” said O’Reilly. “I just think the fibers of this team are so close and so tight that nothing was going to break us.”

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