United States' Kelley O'Hara eyes 'redemption' against Sweden at Women's World Cup
ATLANTA -- U.S. women's national team defender Kelley O'Hara said she is "pumped" now that the draw for the Women's World Cup is complete.
The U.S. was placed in Group F alongside Sweden, Thailand and Chile and will open the tournament against the Thais in Rheims on June 11, before facing Chile in Paris five days later and will conclude the group stage on June 20 against long-time adversary Sweden in Le Havre.
"It feels real today," O'Hara told a group of reporters. "I have a headache after watching that because I think that my stress levels went up a bit just because of excitement, and just knowing what it is. Now that the draw has happened, the brackets are filled, the groups are filled, it's real, it's happening and it's going to be here before we know it."
The three opponents make for a diverse group as well, especially in terms of style.
"I'd say Sweden is very different from Chile and is very different from Thailand," O'Hara said. "Chile is very technical, they're a smaller team. Sweden has some taller ladies on their team, and I would say the styles vary drastically. But that's kind of exciting."
As the draw unfolded, O'Hara had a premonition that the U.S. would face Sweden again, and with good reason. The two sides always seem to cross paths at major tournaments, having been grouped together in the last four World Cups. And it was Sweden who also eliminated the U.S. from the 2016 Olympics at the quarterfinal stage.
"I'm excited to play Sweden," O'Hara said. "They obviously knocked us out of the 2016 Olympics, so I think there's going to need to be a little bit of redemption there. I think that's going to be a really good game to just evaluate us for the rest of the tournament."
The U.S. is somewhat familiar with Thailand and Chile having played friendlies against both teams during 2018. That should aid the preparation process heading into the tournament.
"Regardless if we had played a team or not, we typically go in with a good idea of what to expect," O'Hara said. "But it does help to have this kind of feeling of what a team is going to be like."
This edition of the tournament marks the second time that the field will be comprised of 24 teams. The sense is that such inclusion will eventually raise the level of the entire women's game. Money is important as well, and O'Hara noted that the level of investment will need to grow.
"The gap between the top-ranked team and the lowest in this World Cup is much closer than it ever has been, just in terms of the level of play," she said. "That is due to federations investing more time and money to their female programs, which I think is super important. I think this needs to continue. It's just starting and it's only going to get better, but it does need that investment from the federations. I think they'll be pleasantly surprised to see that the competition is going to be stiff and exciting."
For now the U.S. team is intent on focusing on its own game, especially now that the group stage opponents are known.
"I think it's just continuing to gel as a team," she said. "I think we've made some big strides in the last year. Obviously we went through a pretty big transition period after the Olympics and Jill was very transparent about that, to the media, to us. It was kind of growing pains, but since then I think that it's been a consistent group and I think that's important for us to grow in terms of chemistry."