Posing with a soccer ball on her hip on a rooftop terrace in New York City, Olympic gold medalist Kelley O’Hara looks completely at ease. To her left stands a Manhattan-based dermatologist and fellow special guest of the Coppertone event; to her right is an endless city skyline dotted with skyscrapers.
A recent deal with Coppertone brought about the event that particular balmy Wednesday afternoon, a workout and skincare chat with Kelley O’Hara and Dr. Elizabeth Hale. Amid the beauty and fitness talk, TSFJ caught up with the defender about the growth of women’s soccer in the United States, her college glory days, Stanford football and her view from the top.
The Fayetteville, Ga. native and self-proclaimed homebody revealed that playing competitive youth soccer is what opened up her world. The various travel put her at ease on the road and eventually led to her choosing a college across the country.
At Stanford, O’Hara found success as she led the Cardinal in scoring her freshman year with nine goals and helped the team reach the third round of the NCAA Tournament in her sophomore season. When asked what games were most memorable, she referenced her junior year, when Stanford advanced to the College Cup for the first time since 1993.
“Any of the tournament games — I think we were playing Portland actually, and it was my junior year and we beat them. Christen Press scored this late goal, and we won to go to the Final Four,” said O’Hara. “Stuff like that, I’ll always remember it.” O’Hara and Press can’t quite kick the teammate thing it seems, as both played in the 2015 World Cup and are on the current U.S. Women’s National Team roster.
But O’Hara’s senior year was the most impressive during her time at Stanford. She scored 23 goals and recorded 13 assists, leading her team to the College Cup championship where the Cardinal fell to North Carolina 1-0 after O’Hara received two yellow cards in the second half, forcing Stanford to play a woman down. O’Hara finished her career at Stanford with 57 goals and 32 assists, both school records at the time, and she was awarded the Hermann Trophy, an honor bestowed on the top collegiate soccer player in the country.
She was drafted third overall the following year to the FC Gold Pride, but the team folded after one season with the Women’s Professional Soccer League following suit two years later.
The National Women’s Soccer League formed in 2013, and O’Hara joined Sky Blue FC in New Jersey, where she currently plays forward.
The strides her sport has made makes O’Hara proud to have been a part of the process.
“When I went to college, there wasn’t an opportunity to play after college for anyone because there wasn’t a professional league,” O’Hara said. “But by the time my senior year rolled around there was the WPS. So that was really cool to see that re-emerge and become an option for women’s soccer players to play.
"And obviously WPS folded, but now there is NWSL. So I think just in general having a league here gives college women’s soccer players an opportunity to have something to shoot for after college because making the national team is obviously the pinnacle, but there are steps. So the fact that there is the NWSL and that people in the NWSL will get called up to the national team … it’s really cool to know that there is that kind of next rung to get to.”
Despite the international and professional accolades, playing at Stanford remains O’Hara’s favorite, and her teammates from that time are still some of her closest friends.
“Playing at Cagan [Stadium] was some of my best memories of soccer,” she reflected. “We had the best fan support. We would get sold-out games by the end of my junior and senior year. It was so cool to be part of it.”
O’Hara returns to Stanford as often as she can and remains an avid fan, particularly of football, even though it is mostly from afar.
“The football team was 1-11 my freshman year, and I was like, ‘This isn’t going to work boys. We are going to need to do better,’” O’Hara joked. “Obviously since then, we have become this football powerhouse, which is the best to watch. I went to one game last season. Obviously, I don’t get out there that much, but I watch every Saturday.”
Another reason O’Hara tunes in every Saturday is to watch her favorite player, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.
“I was obsessed with him,” admitted O’Hara. “I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ in the beginning of the season and then just was his biggest fan because I’m No. 5 on the national team so I got super stoked. I was like, ‘Yeah, No. 5 doing work!’”
She even shared in the indignation when McCaffrey was passed over for the Heisman.
“He should have won,” said O’Hara. “Yeah, c’mon. We always get shafted though when it comes to the Heisman. We have had so many great players come through in recent years, and they haven’t given it to us.”
She even took to Twitter to support her fellow Cardinal.
If @CMccaffrey5 doesn't win the Heisman, I'm boycotting college football. #5
— Kelley O'Hara (@kohara19) December 6, 2015
The way O’Hara talks about her time at Stanford makes it clear it was a special place, a place where she was able to watch soccer transition from a hobby to a lifestyle.
“I felt very well-supported at Stanford. It’s an incredible school," a grateful O'Hara said. "We had really amazing fans, and some of my best memories of soccer are playing on that field."
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.