Two-time World Cup champion Kelli O'Hara announces her retirement

After an illustrious career for both club and country, Gotham FC and US Women's National Team defender Kelli O'Hara made the announcement today via… Kelly on the street She will retire from professional soccer at the end of this year, making the 2024 NWSL season her last.

“I've always said I would play on two conditions: that I still love playing football, and if my body allows me to do it the way I want,” O'Hara said. Women's sports only In the period leading up to her retirement announcement. “I knew a while ago that I would always love it, so the physical piece was the deciding factor.”

The 35-year-old will retire as a two-time World Cup champion, Olympic gold medalist, and at least two-time NWSL champion, depending on where Gotham finishes this season. Her legacy as a player is difficult to fully encapsulate, and will live on forever in some of the biggest shots in USWNT and NWSL history.

In 2012, O'Hara played every minute of the USWNT's Olympic gold medal run, having recently converted to defender. Her soaring goal from the bench in the 2015 World Cup semi-final is the stuff of legend. Her return from persistent injury to play in every knockout match in the national team's 2019 World Cup victory cemented her international career.

It was O'Hara who scored the overtime goal in 2021 to give the Washington Spirit their first-ever NFL championship, and it's O'Hara who returns to help see Gotham win a title in 2023 after years spent in the trenches with the previous iteration of the club. , the sky is blue. Her 15-year career spanned two professional women's soccer leagues in the United States (earning her first professional title in 2010 with WPS's FC Gold Pride), as well as sweeping changes to the sport on and off the field.

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O'Hara celebrates after scoring the winning goal for the Washington Spirit in the 2021 NWSL Championship game in Louisville, Kentucky. (Jimmy Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

On the pitch, O'Hara has always been known for her never-stopping motor, making the right wing her domain in attacking possession and defensive transitions. In recent years, she has also been celebrated for the competitive rivalry that has raised the level of her teammates, whether in the starting lineup or supporting off the bench.

But injuries are taking their toll, a fact that fans watching from home don't always see. “I've never taken anything for granted, and I feel like I've never looked back,” O'Hara said of her late-career success in the NFL despite battling injuries. “I've always said, 'I've got to put my best foot forward every day I step into this field' — and that's honestly probably half the reason I have to retire now instead of getting a few more years.” “I grinded so hard.”

Recently, O'Hara was sidelined in Gotham due to ankle and knee injuries, and the situation has prompted her to prioritize listening to her body. “You get injured and come back, get injured and come back, and you keep doing it, it really takes a toll on you.

She continued: “People don't see the uncertainty associated with injury. As athletes, we feel a certain way, we perform a certain way, our body feels a certain way, and we are very in tune with our bodies.” There is always a lot of uncertainty surrounding injury. It's like, “Can I feel the way I felt before?” The truth is, sometimes you don't.”

O'Hara did not come to the decision to move on from her playing career lightly. But once she started seriously thinking about making 2024 her final year during the NFL's final season, it seemed right. “At one point I said, 'Well, you know what, this is going to be my last year,' and I felt very at peace with it,” she said. “Really, the only thing I felt was gratitude for everything my career has been, all the things I've been able to do and the people I've been able to do it with.”

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She said she will miss the daily interactions with her teammates and all the great memories they created, although she feels lucky to have formed relationships that go beyond just sharing a locker room. “You're basically hanging out and shooting with your best friends every day,” she said. “Which is unheard of, and I feel very lucky to be doing this for so long.”

O'Hara poses with USWNT teammates Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath after their 2015 Women's World Cup win in Vancouver, Canada. (Mike Hewitt – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

The Stanford graduate also said that the NFL's suspension of the regular season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic made her realize how much playing time allowed her the space to be creative every day. The tactical elements of football provided O'Hara with a problem-solving outlet and capitalized on her natural competitiveness.

She is now preparing to channel her on-field strength into her full-time playing career, a new chapter she is excited to begin. “I don't know if the world is ready for that, like the fact that I'm not going to put all my energy into soccer all the time,” she said with a laugh.

O'Hara said she wants to stay connected to the game in some way, whether that's as an owner, coach or member of the front office. She is also interested in the growing media space surrounding women's sports, having provided on-camera analysis for broadcasters such as CBS Sports In addition to establishing a production company with her fiancée.

“I feel like I have a lot of emotions and things that excite me,” she says. “And I want to stay as close to the game as possible, because I feel a responsibility – I'm not sure in what capacity – to continue developing it.”

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O'Hara speaks with fellow USWNT members and vets at the White House Equal Pay Day Summit in 2022. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

A sense of responsibility to grow the game was a constant refrain for USWNT and NWSL players in the O'Hara era, who ushered in a new era of equal pay for the national team and collectively bargained protections for those in the league. The landscape for new players looks different than it did 14 years ago, largely because of this pivotal generation.

“I feel a huge sense of pride about it, because I don't know if any of us knew it was going to happen,” she said. “As things evolve, we have taken the next step towards changing the face of women's football in this country and around the world.

“I'm really grateful to be part of this era with the players I was [with]And not backing down and pushing and knowing that this is the right thing to do.”

Whatever the future holds, O'Hara is moving forward at full speed. It's advice she'd also give to the next generation of professionals looking to make their own impact.

“Everything you do in life, do it because you love it, and the chips will fall in place,” she said. “If you love something, you're willing to do what it takes. You're willing to make sacrifices, you're willing to handle the roller coaster.”

“For me, it's simple. Don't do it for any other reason than this, and I think you'll be fine.”

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