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Heather O’Reilly retires from international soccer

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After first getting capped for her country at 17, Heather O’Reilly calls time for the WNT at 31

Trinidad & Tobago v United States Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images

Heather O’Reilly has announced her retirement from international soccer. She will continue to play for her club, FC Kansas City.

"I have spent nearly half my life in a U.S. Soccer uniform, so making the decision to retire from international play was incredibly hard and emotional," said O'Reilly via US Soccer press release. "But quite simply, after 230 caps, thousands of practices, many trips around the world, and having played in three World Cups, and three Olympics, it just feels like the right time. I've had an incredibly complete career playing for my country and it has been an absolute honor to represent the USWNT for the last 15 years. I'm leaving this team with a lot happiness in my heart and pride for what we've accomplished. I truly love this game and it will be in my life forever.”

O’Reilly’s first cap was on March 1, 2002 during the Algarve Cup as a 17-year-old high school senior. She went on to amass 13,322 minutes in 230 caps over the next 14 years. She won the 2003 and 2006 NCAA championships, the 2009 WPS championship, the 2015 NWSL championship, the 2002 U19 World Cup, three Olympic gold medals, and the 2015 World Cup. She played in three consecutive World Cups from 2007 to 2015 and three Olympics from 2004 to 2012. She was named as an alternate for the 2016 Olympic roster and graciously accepted her new role as a mentor and a supporter, traveling with the team in Brazil and helping them to train and prepare.

She was the heir apparent to Mia Hamm, not necessarily in terms of position on the field, but as a figure of strength and leadership for the WNT and as a steady face for the program, all represented symbolically when Hamm retired in 2004 and subbed off for O’Reilly, who afterwards was given the honor of wearing the 9 jersey that Hamm had made hers for so long.

She racked up 46 goals and 54 assists, with the chance for a few more as she will play her last game for the United States on September 15 against Thailand in Columbus, Ohio.

One of her most iconic goals came in the 2011 World Cup during the WNT’s second group game against Colombia. It was a ripper of a shot from distance, curling into the upper 90.

The comments about O’Reilly from her teammates over the years have been uniformly consistent: she is one of the hardest workers on the team, a leader by example, someone they can rely on. Pure class on and off the field. At 31, young twenty-something kids like Emily Sonnett and Samantha Mewis are still having trouble keeping up with her.

The same could generally be said about her play style for the WNT. O’Reilly is known for her speed and her indefatigable engine; even if you know what she’s going to do, driving deep along the right flank and looking for the cross or the cut inside, the problem is you have to actually stop her from doing it.

But the writing was on the wall for O’Reilly as she saw very little playing time in the 2015 World Cup, and continued to get only sporadic minutes until the news came down that she would be an alternate for the 2016 Olympics. For whatever reason, Jill Ellis didn’t rate her anymore or didn’t see the use for her particular brand of speedy right winger. O’Reilly handled it with aplomb. “I knew it would be hard, but there are harder things in life than being an alternate at the Olympic games,” she told Sports Illustrated.

That was consummate O’Reilly, coming at a situation with egoless grace and a dash of humor. She had some parting words in her statement:

"I want to say a big thank you to all five of the coaching staffs that I have played under on the USWNT for believing in me and for giving me the opportunity to wear the crest for so long. And to my past and current USWNT teammates, I don't think I will ever be able to sufficiently put into words what being a member of this team has meant to me. I grew up on this team. We have experienced joy and heartbreak together, and every emotion in between. We have grinded it out together so many days when no one was watching, and we have carried the heart of the nation when everyone was. Thank you, gals, for the amazing ride."