Kelley O’Hara’s Whirlwind 24 Hours After Carli Lloyd's Retirement Game Culminates With Special Homecoming At Mercedes-Benz Stadium

It was an eventful 24 hours for Wednesday night’s Golden Spike hitter, but two-time World Cup champion Kelley O’Hara didn’t give any indications of being tired.  

She had an early start, and mentioned something about a nap, which may have helped, but her focus was giving it all to the task at hand. Her appearance at Atlanta United’s match against Inter Miami was full of energy. On the capo stand, she turned her back to the spike to wave enthusiastically at supporters and encourage them to make some noise.   

In the BLVCK kit, she gave three sturdy, swift hits to drive the spike into place, then pumped her hands two more times to get the supporters riled up for kickoff. Waiting a few steps away was her club and U.S. soccer teammate Emily Sonnett, herself a Marietta native, with two cold beers in hand for her and O’Hara to toast the start of the match.  

“It’s really exciting that Atlanta United is in such a playoff push right now and this game means so much, so I'm excited to watch the match,” O’Hara said just moments before going out to hit the spike.

In truth, before arriving to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday, O’Hara had a late night. The two-time Olympic medalist was with the U.S. women’s national soccer team in Minnesota on Tuesday for Carli Lloyd’s retirement match.

The U.S. beat Korea 6-0 in a friendly at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota to send Lloyd into retirement with a roaring win. O’Hara didn’t appear in the match but was on the bench supporting Lloyd and her teammates in what was an emotional and powerful sendoff.

“We got to celebrate her and all her accomplishments and do it the right way. It was a very special night,” O’Hara said.

“And then we had some fun after,” she added.

Despite the quick turnaround, O’Hara was more than excited to make the trip to Atlanta for the special honor of hitting the Golden Spike. The 33-year-old grew up nearby in Fayetteville, Ga. She went to Starr’s Mill High School and lived in Atlanta for a couple years after college. She considers Georgia home and has a place in Atlanta now.

“It’s a vibrant city,” O’Hara said. “There's like an energy to it. There's so much diversity and it's just a fun city. Like I've never had a bad time in Atlanta, you know? It’s just a good time. Good people. Good food. All the good things.”

An opportunity she couldn’t pass up sent O’Hara to play college at Stanford University, one of the best women’s soccer programs in the country. She had a record-setting collegiate career, earning All-American honors twice.

After her senior season, she was awarded the Hermann Trophy given annually to the top men’s and women’s players. (Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, Christine Sinclair are just a few other greats to receive the honor.)

Following Stanford, she bounced around the country playing professionally for a few different clubs. She played for the Boston Breakers in the Women’s Professional Soccer league before moving on to Sky Blue FC, a member of the National Women’s Soccer League.

It was during her three seasons with the Utah Royals, another NWSL club, that she got to know current Atlanta United defender Brooks Lennon while he played at Real Salt Lake.

“It’s always fun to see somebody that you know personally play and succeed,” she said. “But I just like the team in general. It's an exciting style of soccer to watch.”

She got her first cap with the U.S. in 2010. Since then, she’s become an anchor for the national team, mostly playing defensive back. She’s won two Olympic medals: gold in London (2012) and bronze in Tokyo (2020). And she’s been a part of two World Cup titles (2015, 2019). In the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup she finished off a smart, searing run in the semifinal against Germany to seal a berth in the final for the U.S.

O’Hara currently plays club ball with the Washington Spirit in the NWSL. Similar to the Eastern Conference in MLS, the NWSL standings table is tight. With a week remaining in the regular season, the playoff field has not yet been set.

But O’Hara knows what it’s like to fight for spot in the postseason. The Washington Spirit clinched a playoff berth just recently on Oct. 19, something Atlanta United is looking to do with two matches remaining before Decision Day.

“You’ve got to play every game like you’re in the playoffs,” O’Hara said. “It's single elimination, every single game matters. You’ve got to get points however you possibly can.”

O’Hara grew up playing soccer around Georgia. As a product of youth soccer in the state, she knows the importance of Atlanta United’s involvement at the youth level, from the Regional Development School to the Academy.

“There was such good competition every weekend for us,” O’Hara recalls. “I think that I lucked out in the sense that I got to grow up here and play here.”

Her career has taken her all over the world: Tokyo, Canada, London – and perhaps Australia and New Zealand next for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. But wherever her international and professional career takes her, she’ll always value her connection to her home state.

“Georgia will always be home to me,” she said. “This is where my roots are. And it's a special place for me.”

Kelley O’Hara’s Whirlwind 24 Hours Culminates With Special Homecoming Carli Lloyd Retirement Game Minnesota Atlanta United Match