On Thursday evening, Seattle Reign FC’s Megan Rapinoe and the U.S. Women’s National Team face Thailand in an international friendly. The match, which kicks off at 5:00 p.m. PT on ESPN2, was meant to be the first in a post-Olympic Victory Tour, had the USWNT earned a medal in Rio.
Instead, it has turned into an opportunity to thank one of the hardest-working and most-capped players in U.S. national team history, Heather O’Reilly, who announced her national team retirement two weeks ago.
O’Reilly—given the nickname HAO by her teammates—debuted on the national team in 2002 at the age of 17. She enters tonight’s match with 230 caps, 46 goals, 54 assists, 3 Olympic Gold medals and a World Cup title. At the age of 31, HAO is leaving the national team with plenty still left in the tank. In fact, her fitness is the last thing in question, as HAO broke the national team beep test record this January, a commonly used measurement for stamina and fitness. She’ll remain with her NWSL club team, FC Kansas City, for at least the rest of the season.
“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,” O’Reilly said when announcing her international retirement.
USWNT coach Jill Ellis only called up those players who made the trip to Rio for this game and the next, although both Mallory Pugh and Morgan Brian will be out for this match. Pugh is recovering from an ankle injury while Brian is being rested after suffering a knock to the head last weekend.
That leaves Ellis with 17 active field players to choose from. After last weekend’s Seattle Reign match, Megan Rapinoe stated that she’d love to get some playing time in order to keep working her way back to full fitness. This seems like a strong option, as many national team players have had limited rest after a grueling Olympics and NWSL schedule.
#USAvTHA starting XI: Harris; O’Hara, Sauerbrunn, Johnston, Krieger; Long, Mewis, Lloyd; O’Reilly (C), Press, Heath. pic.twitter.com/qmYPg4HWV3— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) September 15, 2016
This is the first time the USWNT has faced Thailand, which participated in its first Women’s World Cup in 2015. Thailand did not advance beyond the World Cup group stages, falling to Norway and Germany but earning a historic 3-2 victory against Ivory Coast.
The team is a rather unknown competitor, as nearly all its players compete domestically. They do have some speedy attackers who could get through the U.S. backline a few times, including midfielder Kanjana Sung-ngoen, who has 30 goals in 44 international appearances. But the U.S. should dominate possession and have plenty of opportunities to press in their half.
How to Watch
When: Thursday, September 15, 2016, 5:00 p.m. PT
Where: MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio
This is your USWNT gamethread. Bid farewell to HAO with us.