WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Heather O’Reilly guesses she was about 14 when the United States last won a World Cup.
She remembers going to a match in New Jersey and seeing her heroes play in person, then gathering in front of the TV with her family to watch the dramatic final at the Rose Bowl. The United States defeated China on penalty kicks, prompting Brandi Chastain to famously doff her jersey in celebration.
O’Reilly was hooked.
“I was a big dreamer as a kid,” she said. “I was at Giants Stadium and I got teary-eyed when the women marched out to the national anthem. And I did say to myself, ‘I want to be there some day. I want to be like Mia Hamm one day.’”
Now the veteran midfielder is about to play in her third World Cup. She’d like nothing more than to help the United States claim its third championship, and first since that sunny day in Southern California 16 years ago.
The last time, in 2011 in Germany, the United States advanced to the final but fell to Japan on penalty kicks.
O’Reilly says that loss drives the team now.
“We were in the finals, and that’s a lot to be proud of, but we feel like there’s still a lot of unfinished business. Christie Rampone is the only one of us who has a World Cup championship under her belt. So there’s a lot of eager and determined women here that want to bring this home.”
In addition to the Australians, the U.S. team is part of a difficult group that includes Sweden and Nigeria. Those two teams open group play in the early match on Monday at Winnipeg Stadium.
An expanded field of 24 teams is competing in the monthlong tournament being played in six Canadian cities. It concludes on July 5 with the championship match in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The event is being played as a scandal rocks soccer’s international governing body. FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced his resignation last week after the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 14 people on corruption charges related to soccer.