Arsenal Ladies have finally confirmed the signing of 32 year old US Women’s National Team stalwart Heather O’Reilly from Kansas City. The signing has been in the offing for a few months now, Heather trained with Arsenal back in October and even played a behind closed doors friendly during her stay.
O’Reilly is one of the most high profile signings in English Women’s football history, having won three Olympic golds and the 2015 World Cup with the USA, for whom she has 231 caps. O’Reilly joins a number of high profile American players that have moved to Europe during the off season in the WSL. Crystal Dunn recently signed for Chelsea, while Alex Morgan joined Olympique Lyonnais last week.
The signing of O’Reilly, as well as Dunn and Morgan’s decisions to move away from the US- considered the citadel of women’s football- demonstrates the increased spending power of clubs in Europe. There is also an ongoing salary dispute between American players and the US Women’s National Team, which has led to some bad blood and a mood of distrust between footballers and the American soccer system. (Though it ought to be noted that O’Reilly has now retired from international football).
Heather, known commonly as HAO Stateside, plays in midfield, but with Arsenal well stocked in the centre of the park, it is likely that she will operate on the right hand side, where the Gunners are a little light on personnel. With Emma Byrne, Rachel Yankey and Casey Stoney having left and Kelly Smith retired, she also adds some vital experience to a young squad. Though she has just turned 32, O’Reilly is considered one of the finest athletes in the game.
HAO will stay with Arsenal until June to see them through the Spring Series. With the WSL transitioning back to a winter season in September, the Spring Series, running from April to June, is a one off competition that will fill the chasm before this summer’s Euro 2017 and the start of the WSL season in September. It is unclear whether there is any prospect of O’Reilly staying beyond the summer.
Manager Pedro Losa has hinted that he wants to use the Spring Series to blood some of his younger players, but HAO’s presence will serve as a guiding hand, as well as filling a problem position. Heather is also renowned for her high levels of professionalism and enthusiasm. Arsenal have spent much of the off season trimming a bloated squad, with Josi Henning, Losada, Corredera and Natalia also leaving the club.
Having already sealed the signing of Kim Little, The Gunners will look to add a couple more before the Spring Series gets underway, with a forward and a defender in the crosshairs. O’Reilly is Arsenal Ladies’ first ever American player, but given manager Pedro Losa’s connections in the states, where he coached in New York, she is unlikely to be the last.