On the day of Heather O’Reilly’s last game for the United States, the tributes flew fast and thick. Everyone, it seemed, had a kind word or funny or inspiring story. It was a fitting testament to someone who has approached the game over the years with unflagging good-natured humor, leaving behind so many little positive impressions that build a much bigger picture.
Yael Averbuch had already written this tribute to her FC Kansas City teammate:
Just this week, on the day she announced her retirement from the USWNT, she spent her evening out on the field with our FC Kansas City team completing her E License coaching course. Heather doesn’t need her E License. As a long-time member of the National Team, she’s eligible for her B License. No one would have judged her for opting out of our team-organized course. But there she was, jogging to set up her cones and enthusiastically instructing her group of players on service from wide areas.
Then there was this memory from fellow Olympic alternate Samantha Mewis when they were both competing for roster spots:
I wanted to hide my own fears about not making the roster because it didn't feel as if I had the right to be in such despair- I had invested only a fraction of what she had.
But HAO must have sensed my near-tears and she said, "Samuel, you ok?"
All of my resolve to stay strong vanished and I was immediately crying, cursing myself. HAO put both of her hands on my shoulders and she looked me in the eyes and she comforted me- genuinely and wholeheartedly. She told me that this was how I would get better.
And the tweets and instagrams almost too numerous to catalogue:
Watch this one's last game tomorrow night at 8pmET on ESPN2! Number 9 in your programs, number 1 in your hearts. pic.twitter.com/LQkChxLXcn— Becky Sauerbrunn (@beckysauerbrunn) September 15, 2016
Tonight is all about @HeatherOReilly Thank you for being you and absolutely crushing life— Crystal Dunn (@crysdunn_19) September 15, 2016
Today we celebrate you, HAO! You are the epitome of who young athletes should model their careers after. I'm forever grateful for your friendship and support over the past 9 years on this team together. I will say it time and time again that you are the best teammate I've ever had. Your impact on the beautiful game will have a lasting effect for generations to come. I will miss you everyday, but I will never forget your selflessness, undeniable strength and your dime-piece crosses! You are legendary and I'm lucky to call you one of my closest friends. "Right Side, Strong Side." ❤ ⚽️ #ThanksHAO #isiphotos (pc: @bradsmithimages )
We’ll close with words from O’Reilly herself, who wrote this in the Players’ Tribune:
And to those who are reading this, young and old, who have a fire burning inside of them: Embrace it. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Own who you are, live with your heart on your sleeve and dream big dreams.
This game has not seen the last of me. I love it too much.
Of that we have no doubt. Goodbye HAO, and see you soon.