If oldies golden, O'Reilly key to tune

19-year-old is the future, but working out fine now

Women's Soccer

Athens 2004

August 25, 2004|By Philip Hersh | Philip Hersh,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ATHENS - Heather O'Reilly's teammates keep teasing her by saying she should be playing soccer with Katie Fawcett, not Joy, and the idea isn't so far-fetched.

After all, O'Reilly, 19, is a lot closer in age to Katie, 10, than she is to Katie's mother, Joy, who is 36.

O'Reilly, the youngest player on the U.S. women's soccer team, has no problem with the age difference on the field. Her young legs have added badly needed speed to the veteran team that plays Brazil for the Olympic gold medal tomorrow night. The Americans won the gold in 1996 and lost in the 2000 final.

"You'll see the generation gap when we do crosswords and the clue will be `Blank Speedwagon,' and Heather won't know the answer," Brandi Chastain said. "And Julie [Foudy] was like, `You don't know who Styx are?'"

Said O'Reilly: "I won't know those songs on the radio from the '80s and '70s."

Chastain, 36, has been O'Reilly's roommate at the Olympics. Before the U.S. team's 2-1 semifinal win Monday over Germany, Chastain said, they were dancing around the room like 12-year-olds.

"Singing giddy, dumb songs," Chastain said.

Chastain was singing O'Reilly's praises after the teenager scored the winning goal in overtime. It was her first goal in 11 national team appearances this season and first in a major tournament.

O'Reilly has appeared in three of the five Olympic matches, getting her largest amount of playing time (45 minutes) against Germany because the match went into overtime.

"Walking off the field, I thought, `This is a wonderful coming-out party for Heather O'Reilly,' " Chastain said. "One goal does not make a career, but this one is not a bad jumping-off place."

O'Reilly, who played her first national team matches at age 17, was on the verge of making the jump to the big time last year, but she broke one of the bones in her lower left leg three months before the Women's World Cup. Coach April Heinrichs kept a spot open until it became apparent O'Reilly would not recover in time.

She came back to have a spectacular freshman season for the University of North Carolina. O'Reilly scored in all six of the Tar Heels' NCAA playoff games as the team won the title and finished with a 27-0 record.

The Carolina connection is one of the reasons people are inclined to look for O'Reilly to replace Mia Hamm as the star of the national team when Hamm retires from international play after tomorrow's match. Hamm also was 19 when she made her national team debut in a major tournament, the 1991 World Cup, scoring twice.

Hamm, 32, is impressed with how quickly O'Reilly has blended into a team dominated by 30-year-olds who have been playing together since 1991.

"When we are in the over-30 hour in the training room after 10, and Heather sleeps until 11 every day, that puts things into perspective," Hamm said. "But she is as quick to make fun of me as she is of Lindsay Tarpley [who is 20], and that is what this team is about."

"You're around her five minutes, and she lights up a room," Hamm said.

Maybe Chastain could sing "You Light Up My Life" the next time they dance around the room. It's a giddy, dumb song.

But O'Reilly wouldn't get it. It's from the '70s.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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