U.S. women's soccer team has local flavor

Posted: July 25, 2012

In 2004, Heather O'Reilly was just a 19-year-old lucky enough to be playing soccer alongside her idols.

Then she scored the overtime goal that sent the United States women's national team into the gold-medal game of the Olympics. The squad went on to win the gold over Brazil.

"I was definitely awestruck," O'Reilly said. "First of all by making the team and playing alongside my idols like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, all players that I looked up to for years. In 2004, I was just along for the ride."

Now 27, O'Reilly is headed to her third Olympics and looking for her third gold medal. No longer a kid, she has played with the team for 11 years.

"I've been in everybody's shoes," O'Reilly said. "I've been a reserve player. I've been a starter. I've been the young kid. I'm able to relate to a lot of different positions."

A member of the national team since 2002, the East Brunswick, N.J., native has been a mainstay of the American roster since 2007 when she scored two goals at the World Cup. Originally a forward, O'Reilly switched to midfield when Pia Sundhage took over as head coach. The move has resulted in more playing time and starts for O'Reilly, who is one of the more dangerous flanking midfielders due to her speed.

O'Reilly's 166 caps are fourth on the current Olympic roster behind team captain Christie Rampone, forward Abby Wambach, and midfielder Shannon Boxx. She is the 12th most capped player in the history of the national team and could move into the top 10 during the London Games. Her 34 career goals are third on the current Olympic roster and 14th all-time.

Joining O'Reilly on the Olympic roster is former Independence goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, from Gilbertsville, Pa., who has been on the team since 2004. Barnhart, 31, has been Hope Solo's backup in the last three major tournaments, including the 2007 Women's Cup, the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2011 World Cup in Germany.

"It is one of those roles that is tough because you don't get a lot of games, but you always have to be mentally and physically prepared," Barnhart said. "You never know what will happen when. You have to train and have the mentality that you are the starter because you could get thrown in at any time, and you have to be prepared if the time comes."

It's a mentality that came in handy during 2010 and 2011 as Solo recovered from shoulder surgery. Barnhart's play helped earn the team a 2011 World Cup berth as well as a 2011 Algarve Cup title in Portugal. She has a 28-3-4 career record in net with 21 shutouts and ranks third all-time behind Solo and Briana Scurry in wins and appearances.

"You put in all the hard work, but you don't get to see much time on the field playing in games," said Barnhart, who has 43 caps with the national team. "You train hard every day, and you work to gain the respect of all the players and coaches. You know you have their support if you have to step up."

Other local players on the Olympic roster include Rampone, a Monmouth University graduate from Point Pleasant, N.J., and Villanova alum Jill Loyden, an alternate goalkeeper from Vineland, N.J.

Rampone, 36, is the fourth-most capped player in the team's history, only 12 games behind Foudy and 15 games behind Hamm. She will be appearing in an unprecedented fourth Olympics, a U.S. soccer record. The team's captain since 2008, the defender is the only remaining player from the 1999 World Cup championship team.

Loyden, who earned a spot on the 2011 World Cup team, is one of four alternates selected by Sundhage. The three-time Big East goalkeeper of the year, Loyden earned 37 shutouts in 82 games for the Wildcats with a 0.68 goals against average.

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