The peak of Kelley O’Hara’s excitement may have come as she stepped onto Kennesaw State’s soccer stadium for WPS All-Star practice Tuesday.
But one unlikely moment following a red-eye flight from California may have rivaled it.
“I walked outside the airport and was like, ‘Ah, Atlanta,’” the Fayetteville native said. “I’m finally home.”
The 22-year-old returns to Atlanta in a showcase of the nation’s top professional soccer players and her own burgeoning career.
O’Hara, of FC Gold Pride, will serve as one of the reserve forwards for the team Abby XI when the WPS All-Star game kicks off Wednesday.
The rookie was voted onto the team in her first season with the WPS -- an accomplishment that O'Hara acknowledged she had never foreseen.
“To be honest, when I was growing up, I never saw myself here,” she said. "It's absolutely incredible."
O’Hara was drafted out of the W-League a year after graduating from Stanford, where she was awarded the Hermann Trophy as the year’s top female soccer player.
With her mother and father still living in Fayetteville, a brother at Georgia Tech and a sister in Atlanta, O’Hara said she still has a lot of ties to the area.
In fact, this is where her career began.
O’Hara developed her playing career on the club teams the Peachtree City Lasers and Lightning before joining the U17 national team.
So her homecoming will carry extra meaning, O’Hara said.
Not to mention that the player has the opportunity to indulge in all the luxuries that California can’t offer.
“As soon as I got off the plane, I wanted to go to Chick-Fil-A,” she said. “Instead, we came back to the hotel and grabbed breakfast. I slept until 1:30 and woke up. Then I went to Chick-Fil-A.”
O’Hara will remain in town for the remainder of the week as FC Gold Pride plays the Beat on Saturday.
It seems that Hope Solo, Lori Chalupny, Tina Ellertson and Eniola Aluko have again found their way onto a team together. Though this time, under much more favorable conditions.
The four midseason acquisitions by the Beat from now-defunct St. Louis Athletica were chosen for the Abby XI team.
Solo was taken as the draft's overall first pick, while Ellertson followed shortly as the third pick of the draft.
"This is kind of rewarding because we've had such a tough year," Solo said. "We actually got voted on for our play from St. Louis, so I got a little pride knowing I'm here because of St. Louis, and I'll forever be grateful for that."
While the players continue to work on a transition to a new team and style of play, Beat forward Aluko said that the game provided a welcome break in the season.
The former Athletica players arrived in Atlanta to a team that was still searching for its first win of the season.
"I think it's nice not to be a in a pressure situation because we came into a situation where we had to score points," Aluko said.
The players appeared to enjoy themselves in a 7-on-7 game to finish the day's practice, where the Beat players didn't fail to impress.
Solo connected with her team captain Abby Wombach for the game-winning goal.
After the game, the keeper was asked for a scouting report on the Abby XI team. She responded with a prediction instead.
"Keep your eye out for a win," she said.
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