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Kelley O’Hara was the bulldozer the USWNT needed

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The goalscorers and playmakers get the credit, but O’Hara was just as important.

United States of America v Netherlands : Final - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Photo by David Aliaga/MB Media/Getty Images

The USWNT is so great because it’s such a well-balanced team. Everyone has their role. Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan score the goals. Tobin Heath and Rose Lavelle style on and nutmeg people. Sam Mewis and Lindsey Horan play pinpoint passes. Crystal Dunn gives incredible work rate and speed. Julie Ertz, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Alyssa Naeher form the solid spine of the team.

And Kelley O’Hara fucks people up.

Watching O’Hara turn into this player has been an incredible development. She started as a star striker at Stanford before being turned into an attacking winger. Slowly, over time, she developed more defensive skills and became more of an all-around player, filling in wherever needed. But multiple ankle surgeries have taken away some of O’Hara’s speed, and she’s no longer able to sprint behind defenses with ease.

Injuries kept O’Hara from playing regularly for the United States in the year leading up to the World Cup, and during that period, coach Jill Ellis tried out a number of converted wingers in her place. Some could match O’Hara’s attacking contribution, but none provided the same steel in defense. It was obvious what was missing from the team when she couldn’t play. When O’Hara finally got fully fit a month before the World Cup, it was a massive relief for Ellis.

“Myself personally, it’s been a long, rocky road up to this point,” O’Hara says. “If you would have talked to me two months ago I wouldn’t have expected this, for myself especially, so I’m just really thankful right now.”

In order to keep her role as a national team starter after losing that step of pace, O’Hara has needed to supplement her world-class crossing ability and excellent positional awareness with an added dose of physicality.

This, unfortunately, led to O’Hara leaving the USWNT’s World Cup final victory over the Netherlands at halftime. She collided with Dutch winger Lieke Martens just before the break and the USWNT decided they’d rather be safe than sorry with a potential concussion. But it was just the kind of play that everyone’s come to expect from O’Hara.

“Winning a World Cup is the hardest thing you can do it football, and maybe in life, I don’t know, man,” O’Hara says. “I’d run through a brick wall if necessary. That’s what I was trying to do tonight.”

That’s what it seems like O’Hara tries to do every night. That’s why her teammates and fans love her so much, and why, even after injuries took away her speed, she’s still needed on the USWNT.