The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson for September 16, 2019

Heather O'Reilly appreciation edition. Enough said. Oh, and bonus quotes from Mark Parsons following the loss to the Courage.

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This is the complimentary issue this week, but there is so much more to come from Annie Peterson on soccer, along with continued tennis from Lindsay Gibbs, basketball from Howard Megdal, golf from Carly Grenfell and hockey from Erica Ayala. Only way to make sure you don’t miss all the latest news, interviews and deep dives across women’s sports every week is to subscribe! Five different women’s sports in your inbox, five days a week, just five dollars a month! And if you’ve already joined us, share this with someone you know who cares about women’s sports the way you do!

HAO to the chief

Heather O’Reilly celebrated her own celebration with an absolute banger.

The veteran midfielder, who is joining the coaching staff at North Carolina following the NWSL season, was honored by the Courage on Saturday at the game against the Orlando Pride. O’Reilly obliged the fans with a goal and an assist and the red-hot Courage won 6-1 because of course they did.

Reilly’s goal came on the same field where she scored her first national team goal in 2002.

“I think in this world where things are so divisive and there’s so much hate, the fact that we’re here together celebrating this sport, I think that’s what it’s all about,” O’Reilly told the crowd at a post-game celebration.

Courage coach Paul Riley said: “I don’t think that you could write a better script for a finishing conclusion. When she walked in today they were all singing for her in the locker room two hours before kickoff. I had a feeling tonight was gonna be a good night and I think they did it for Heather too.” 

O’Reilly retired from the national team back in 2016, finishing with 231 caps and 47 goals, along with the 2015 World Cup trophy and a trio of Olympic gold medals. She’s also got an FA Cup from her time with Arsenal and two College Cup trophies from her time at North Carolina.

Gotta give a personal aside here: I’ve really enjoyed covering HAO. True professional and genuine person. This summer in France, the folks from FOX hosted at luncheon for some of the reporters covering the World Cup, and HAO was delightfully engaging (as were Aly Wagner and JP Dellacamera) when she was off-the-record and off-the-cuff.

It was kind of strange seeing HAO in that role. I had always figured she would go into coaching, not broadcasting.

Apparently I just needed to be patient.

OK, I’m getting misty.

On to the links.

This Week in Women’s Soccer

Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me!

First, really great podcast from Keeper Notes on HAO. Listen to the Mixxed Zone here.

SELF magazine urges folks to follow women’s soccer.

Pepperdine upset No. 2 Stanford over the weekend.

Nice feature on the Rodriguez sisters at UCLA from ESPN’s Graham Hays.

The Associated Press on the Women’s Champions League in the post-World Cup glow.

AP on the tragic death of Sahar Khodayari.

Deadspin on the only game that the 1969 Blinkers United were allowed to play in 1969 England.

Of course The Hill latched on to controversy at the Thorns match

Bleacher Report looks at CTE in female soccer players.

In a move that feels like political theater on the part of both sides but I’m willing to see if anything comes of it: Trump meets with Infantino to urge more equitable treatment of women.

The Equalizer’s Jeff Kassouf looks at FIFA’s club benefits program in the women’s game.

Meg Linehan for The Athletic takes a look at Casey Short’s return to the USWNT.

Tweet of the Week

Five at The IX: HAO postgame comments

Heather O’Reilly’s comments from the postgame media scrum after the Courage’s big week.

Question about the ceremony and the game:

O’REILLY: Huge performance from everyone. This team is special. This community is special. What a dream for me to wrap up my career here. We knew that we wanted to take a day to celebrate. I tried not to talk about it too much before the game because as you can see I’m quite the emotional person. I waned to make sure we had all the energy in the match going in the right direction. This game wouldn’t have meant anything, or would have meant a lot less if we hadn’t gotten the 3 points. Super thrilled with the performance of the team between last week 6-nil and this week, 6-1. This group is special and it’s a privilege for me to be part of it.

Question about her goal:

O’REILLY: I was obviously looking to impact the match. I thought that I did the job fine at right back but later on in the game Paul Riley pushed me forward to an attacking midfield position to get some more opportunities around the net. I was able to cut in earlier in the match and bend one with my left peg, which I don’t think I can hit one better that that. But Ashlyn Harris, world class goalkeeper, got it right out of the top corner. I was disappointed on that. So I tried it another way a few minutes later, cut in on the right and just bent it with power. I’ve been playing this game a long time, 17 years as the elite level, so I hope I can still score goals like that. But to do it in a match of this occasion is obviously huge.

Question about what she saw on the assist:

O’REILLY: I think at first we were bummed that we gave up a goal, to be honest. Obviously it was 6-1 but we got a little sloppy with our defending. I know we weren’t happy with that even though obviously the game was already wrapped up. I saw Deb bursting forward, she’s obviously so speedy so I knew I had to get it in front of her. I’d rather over-hit that final pass than under-hit it. So she was able to grab onto that and slot it home. This team is full of very talented individuals and I think first and foremost, the high level of respect and positivity in this group, the fact that we share goal-scoring opportunities and share the load, I think is what separates this team from others.

Question about her impact on others:

O’REILLY: It’s super special. I was lucky to have a lot of really incredible mentors. I came on the national team and players like Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly and players like that leading the charge for American soccer. Anson Dorrance obviously set the foundation for American Soccer. But I think globally Anson’s fingerprints are on everything. In this World Cup you ad a dominant performance by the U.S. team, there were four Tar Heels on that team. Sarina Wiegman, who is a Tar Heel, coaching the Netherlands. This area, this community, is incredibly special in its development of the women’s game, and I’m incredibly proud to be part of it. So back to your question, if I was able to pass the torch, I think that’s one of the honors of my life.

Question about how important is was to finish where she started:

O’REILLY: It was really important. For a year and a half I was over in London. Had a blast playing for Arsenal, but I knew I had a little bit left in the tank and I wanted to do it at home. It took a little bit of time to orchestrate the trade to get me here. But I knew that this was where I wanted to be, some I really happy and grateful that it worked out for me to cap it off here. It’s definitely full circle and completes my journey and I feel very fortunate because not everybody gets closure and closure is very important to me.

Question about doing the ceremony before the end of the season:

O’REILLY: Obviously as the season progresses and playoffs are approaching, you never know what’s going to happen. They thought this was the perfect night to do it and I agreed. Now we can just got forward, and go for it — like I’ve done my whole life, which is just go for it — so that’s what we’re going to do for the shield and winning the championship. I’m sure that I’ll be nostalgic when the season’s over, and my last game, whenever that is. Hopefully October 27th. But yeah, this is definitely a big weight off. I think that’s why I wanted to say nice and early that this was my final season. It was more for me to get it out there for myself. What a fantastic way to celebrate. And as I said in my speech, if I was able to bring joy to people, which I think we need right now, that’s an incredible privilege and I’m happy to do it.

Five at The IX BONUS: Mark Parson’s postgame comments after loss.

Here are Mark Parson’s comments to the media following the Thorns’ historic 6-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage last Wednesday. And here’s Jamie Goldberg’s excellent piece on the match. I was not there because it was college night for Fast Eddie. Thank you to the Thorns for the transcript.

On the team’s performance tonight…
“[North Carolina Courage] were very, very good. Outstanding performance from them. Probably the best that they might’ve played against a top team. Maybe one of the strongest performances we’ve seen in the league for a long time against a top team. On the other side of our form and our performance, we were probably at our worst.”

On if the team’s preparation set them up for the loss tonight…
“I agree. It was, in all the areas of preparation, and it starts and ends with me, tactical, game prep, physical, mental, emotional, it was probably down there at the very, very worst. It would be easy to say sluggish on the physical side. We were just way behind everywhere. In all areas, we were way off. ­­When it’s one specific area or it’s a few players, it’s easier to pinpoint. Right now there’s a lot of things that could factor into that. Sometimes it’s hard, especially when you’re at this part of the season to go and change a load of things. But identifying one or two, having the biggest impact possible to make sure we don’t look like this again is key. But all the factors, of course I’ve already got things on my mind. I had things on my mind coming into this game and where we could be. There’s things we’ll reflect on and try to improve, but right now the most important thing for us is to know what we’re fighting for and how we’re going to fight for that. Who we are. When you put in a performance like that, on nights like that where you’re playing a team at their best and you’re not having your best night, what you’re here for, what you stand for, for this organization, this team, this club, the staff and players, that’s the thing that you hold on to. It was tough to see that tonight. Fortunately we have a bit of time before our next game to be able to first identify who we are… I say identify, find that, remind ourselves of that. We know who we are. Put that right at the top of list and say, ‘This is who we are. This is what we’re fighting for. This is what we’re working for.’ On the good nights and the bad nights like this, that will guide us. That will be our shining light. That wasn’t there tonight from any of us which obviously makes it hard.”

On what the Thorns could have done differently against North Carolina’s high press…
“What we were great at when we played them here last time was getting them on the switch. I thought their pressure was a little bit better, but unfortunately we weren’t finding those moments tactically or technically and getting on the switch. Our fullbacks and wide players who probably had the most of the ball in our game last time here weren’t on the ball. Ellie [Carpenter] and [Hayley] Raso had some great combinations down the right when it was stuck down there and they found some solutions. Pressure was a little bit better. I mean their freshness, their sharpness, their energy was much better than last time they were here, but we weren’t finding solutions to get on the switch like we did previously. When you do, the game can open up a little bit. Not just because you get to the weak side, but their box has to move a bit. Their box didn’t have to move a lot and we played into their strengths unfortunately and it hurt us.”

On taking advantage of the time before the Thorns’ next game…
“I think we have time for everything. Number one it starts with reminding ourselves what we’re here. What we’re fighting for. Because that should never, ever be in doubt. Put that at the very top of our priorities. Whether we win, lose, whether we play really well or don’t, whether we play this shape or that shape, whether this player starts or that player starts, it will always be clear that the Portland Thorns are here, fighting together and representing what this incredible club, fan base, community, city is all about. We’re built on hard work, putting each other first and always trying to grow. We have to make sure that is the highest priority and everyone’s actions every single day are representing that. Because you’re always going to win, lose games. You’re always going to play well, not play well. Tonight was the first time in a long, long time that we just, combination of a load of things and when you can’t see identity it’s disappointing. I take most responsibility for that than anyone else.”

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports QUEEN OF ALL MEDIA
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Annie Peterson