The Soccer Tournament is adding a women’s field after debuting this summer, and Heather O’Reilly has even bigger plans for the players she wants to recruit to her team competing in the event.
The 7-on-7, winner-take-all event debuted in June with a grand prize of $1 million. Former U.S. women’s national team star O’Reilly entered an all-women team in the tournament, which was otherwise made up of all men.
Now, the event is introducing a women’s field thanks to the help of O’Reilly’s squad, which included former national team players, was coached by Mia Hamm and drew widespread support. The 2024 women’s tournament will award a separate $1 million prize to the winner in an effort to ensure equal pay.
“We were blown away last year [summer 2023] by the reception that Heather O’Reilly’s U.S. Women team got down in North Carolina,” Jon Mugar, the founder and CEO of The Tournaments, told ESPN. “There were a lot of people there cheering them on specifically and getting to know Heather throughout the process. We quickly got to talking about, ‘Hey, what would this look like if we were to break out a women’s bracket with a separate and equal million-dollar prize?'”
Even if the tournament hadn’t added a women’s bracket, O’Reilly and her team would have returned to competition. But now, more women will have the chance to play as part of an eight-team field, smaller than the men’s 48-team field.
“I’m thrilled to take part again in it this year, and I think it’s a huge statement that TST and the organizers have committed to equal prize money,” O’Reilly told ESPN. “The statement that it makes and the feeling around equality, I think is super special.”
O’Reilly, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion with the USWNT, says she’s going to be calling up some old U.S. teammates who recently retired. The tournament will return to Cary, N.C. and take place June 5-10.
“I’m a competitor and I like our chances,” O’Reilly said. “I’m definitely going to be calling a lot of the household names that everybody can imagine that just retired, like Ali Krieger, Julie Ertz, Carli Lloyd. I can promise that we’ll get some big names there. We’re four hours away from a million-dollar prize.”