After an illustrious career for both club and country, Gotham FC and U.S. Women’s National Team defender Kelley O’Hara announced today via Kelley on the Street that she will be retiring from professional soccer at the end of this year, making the 2024 NWSL season her last.

"I have always said I would play under two conditions: that I still love playing soccer, and if my body would let me do it the way I wanted to," O’Hara told Just Women’s Sports in the lead-up to her retirement announcement. "I realized a while back that I was always going to love it, so it was the physical piece that was going to be the deciding factor."

The 35-year-old will retire as a two-time World Cup champion, an Olympic gold medalist, and at least a two-time NWSL champion, depending on where Gotham finishes this season. Her legacy as a player is hard to fully encapsulate, and will forever run through some of the biggest snapshots in USWNT and NWSL history. 

In 2012, O’Hara played every minute of the USWNT’s Olympic gold medal run, after having recently converted into a defender. Her soaring goal off the bench in the 2015 World Cup semifinal is the stuff of legend. And her return from lingering injury to play in every knockout match of the national team’s 2019 World Cup win cemented a storybook international career. 

It was O’Hara who scored the overtime goal in 2021 to earn the Washington Spirit their first-ever NWSL championship, and O’Hara who returned to help see Gotham earn a title in 2023 after years spent in the trenches with the club’s previous iteration, Sky Blue. Her 15-year career spanned two professional women’s soccer leagues in the U.S. (she earned her first professional title in 2010 with WPS’s FC Gold Pride), as well as sweeping changes to the sport both on and off the pitch.

O'Hara celebrates after scoring the winning goal for the Washington Spirit at the 2021 NWSL Championship match in Louisville, Kentucky. (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

On the field, O’Hara has always been known for a motor that never quits, making the right flank her domain in attacking possession and defensive transition. In recent years, she’s also been celebrated for a competitive fire that raises the level of her teammates, whether she’s in the starting XI or supporting from the bench.

But injuries take a toll, a reality not always seen by the fans watching from home. "I've never taken anything for granted, and I feel like I've never coasted either," O’Hara said of her late-career success in the NWSL despite battling injuries. "I've always been like, 'I gotta put my best foot forward every single day I step on this field' — which is honestly probably half the reason why I'm having to retire now as opposed to getting a couple more years out of it. I've just grinded hard."

Recently, O’Hara has been sidelined at Gotham with ankle and knee injuries, and the situation motivated her to really prioritize listening to her body. "To get injured and come back, and get injured and come back, and just keep doing it, it really takes a toll on you.

"People don't see the doubt that's associated with injury,” she continued. "As athletes we feel a certain way, we perform a certain way, our body feels a certain way, we're very in tune with our bodies. And there's always so much doubt surrounding injury. It’s like, 'Can I feel the way I felt before?' The reality is sometimes you don't."

O’Hara didn’t arrive at the decision to move on from her playing career lightly. But once she began seriously considering making 2024 her final year during the last NWSL offseason, it felt right. "Once I was like, 'Alright, you know what, this will be my last year,' I have had a lot of peace with it," she said. "Truly the only thing I felt was gratitude for everything that my career has been, all the things I've been able to do and the people I've been able to do it with."

She said she’ll miss daily interactions with her teammates and all the amazing memories they’ve created, though she feels lucky to have formed relationships that go beyond sharing a locker room. "You're basically getting to hang out and just shoot the shit with your best friends every day," she reflected. "Which is so unheard of, and I just feel very lucky to do it for so long."

O'Hara poses with USWNT teammates Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath after winning the 2015 Women's World Cup in Vancouver, Canada. (Mike Hewitt - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

The Stanford graduate also mentioned that the NWSL’s suspension of regular season play in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic made her realize how much playing allowed her the space to simply be creative every day. The tactical elements of soccer provided O’Hara an outlet for problem solving and made use of her naturally competitive edge.

She’s now gearing up to channel her on-field intensity into her post-playing career full time, which is a new chapter she’s excited to begin. "I don't know if the world's ready for it, like the fact that I'm not going to be putting all of my energy into football all the time," she said with a laugh. 

O’Hara said she would like to stay connected to the game in some fashion, whether it be as an owner, coach, or member of a front office. She’s also interested in the growing media space surrounding women’s sports, having provided on-camera analysis for broadcasters like CBS Sports in addition to starting a production company with her fiancée.

"I just feel like I have a lot of passions, and things that excite me," she says. "And I do want to stay as close as I can to the game, because I feel a responsibility — and I'm not sure in what capacity — to continue to grow it."

O'Hara speaking with fellow USWNT members and vets at the White House Equal Pay Day Summit in 2022. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

A sense of responsibility to grow the game has been a consistent refrain for the USWNT and NWSL players of O’Hara’s era, who ushered in a new age of equal pay for the national team and collectively bargained protections for those in the league. The landscape for new players looks different than it did 14 years ago, in large part due to this pivotal generation.

"I feel an immense sense of pride around that, because I don't know if any of us knew that was gonna happen," she said. "We kind of, as things unfolded, took the next step towards changing what women's football looks like in this country and around the world.

"I'm really grateful to have been part of this era with the players that I was [with], not backing down and pushing and knowing that was the right thing to do."

Whatever the future holds, O’Hara is going ahead full throttle. It’s a piece of advice she’d also give to the next generation of professionals looking to make their own impact.

"Whatever you do in life, do it because you love it, and the chips will fall in place," she said. "If you love something, you're willing to do what it takes. You're willing to make the sacrifices, you're willing to handle the roller coaster.

"To me, it's simple. Don't do it for any other reason but that, and I think you'll be alright."

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Gotham FC is headed to Times Square for New Year’s Eve.

Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara and Midge Purce are set to lead the 60-second countdown into 2024. The NWSL champions will be recognized as the official special guests for the famed celebration in New York City.

As part of the countdown, the trio will push the crystal button set on the main stage in Times Square, which will start the ball drop.

Krieger, O’Hara and Purce join an annual tradition for New Year’s Eve that dates back to the mid-1990s. Previous special guests include former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Lady Gaga and Muhammad Ali.

“As we bring 2023 to a close, we are excited to welcome the city’s newest champion – NJ/NY Gotham FC – to our global celebration,” said Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance. “There is no better place and no bigger party to celebrate NJ/NY Gotham FC than Times Square New Year’s Eve.”

Jeff Straus, president of Countdown Entertainment, which helps to put on the event, said they are “proud” to honor Gotham FC and the club’s first NWSL championship.

“The team serves as an inspiration for hard work and perseverance and their positivity and energy will carry with us into 2024,” he said.

The ball drop continues what has been a star-studded championship tour for Gotham FC, which has included ringing the opening bell on Wall Street and making an appearance on Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live.”

Kelley O’Hara and Lynn Williams took their 2023 NWSL Championship medals to Bravo network Tuesday night as bartenders on “Watch What Happens Live.”

The late-night talk show, hosted by Andy Cohen, also featured guests Jordan Emanuel and Danielle Olivera, who have starred in other Bravo shows. While O’Hara and Williams stayed behind the on-set bar for the episode, they did get the chance to show off their championship hardware.

Their appearance continues what has been a run of title celebrations for Gotham FC, as Ali Krieger appeared on CBS Sports’ “We Need To Talk.” And immediately after the 2-1 win over OL Reign in the NWSL final, Kristie Mewis led the team in a championship celebration for the ages in the locker room at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego.

SAN DIEGO — After lifting the 2023 NWSL trophy on Saturday, no one registered more giddy surprise over their accomplishment than NJ/NY Gotham FC’s players. The club had just put the final stamp on their “worst to first” narrative, a term that retiring legend Ali Krieger said began almost as a joke before becoming the team’s reality.

“In preseason, we were like, ‘We have to go worst to first,’” she told the media after Gotham’s 2-1 win over OL Reign. “And we were kind of laughing at first, because we’re like, oh my god, we’re really going to do it.”

The NWSL playoffs are an American construct of modern soccer, infusing the chaos of knockout soccer into a system that historically rewards steady consistency over the excitement of a few moments of brilliance.

After finishing 2022 in the basement of the NWSL standings, Gotham proved to be stunningly resilient in the 2023 playoffs. They held clean sheets when they could, scored goals when they had to, and saved some of their best collective play for the game that mattered the most.

No one would accuse Gotham of crashing the party, but contending for an NWSL Championship used to be something of a perennial experience. Before the playoffs were expanded in 2021, Portland, Seattle, North Carolina and the Chicago Red Stars tended to duke it out in the postseason, sometimes flanked by the old FC Kansas City teams or North Carolina’s predecessors, the Western New York Flash.

More often than not, North Carolina/Western New York and Portland made it the farthest, swapping title wins from 2016-19. The winner of the playoffs didn’t always reflect the strongest regular season squad (the “Shield Curse” legend didn’t grow out of nowhere), but fans became used to familiar faces taking part in the trophy lift even as the league’s parity shined in other areas.

While teams from that era still loom large over the playoff picture, the suspended 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately proved to be the end of that dynasty era. It was followed by a season of turmoil due to investigations in widespread abuse, forcing front office turnover and, in some cases, club sales.

The 2021 season also launched the six-team playoff structure, giving quarterfinalists a chance to build true momentum through the postseason. The Washington Spirit felt like the first of a new class of champions in 2021, who came together at just the right time after an up-and-down regular season.

If the Spirit nudged the door open, then Gotham FC kicked it off its hinges with their 2023 championship win. The team colloquially known as “the Bats” is the first No. 6 seed to win an NWSL Championship.

“We squeaked into playoffs and made it all the way,” Championship MVP Midge Purce said after the game, summing up Gotham’s Cinderella story.

But now that the confetti has been swept up, and the free agency cycle is once again in full swing, two questions linger: Can Gotham replicate their success next year, and can the playbook for their turnaround be replicated by other teams?

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Lynn Williams scored a goal in the final after Gotham traded for her in the offseason. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

To answer both questions, it’s necessary to look at how the Bats achieved one of the most impressive season comebacks in league history. That process started with the hiring of Juan Carlos Amorós, who communicated his style of play to the team’s leaders from Day 1 and received full-team buy-in in return.

Gotham general manager Yael Averbuch then oversaw an excellent 2023 draft week, during which the club traded for U.S. women’s national team forward Lynn Williams and 2022 NWSL champion Yazmeen Ryan, as well as selected future Rookie of the Year Jenna Nighswonger. The team also did well in free agency, signing 2021 NWSL champion Kelley O’Hara and 2022 champion Abby Smith.

With the additions of Williams, O’Hara, Ryan and Smith, Gotham suddenly had a lot of championship experience in their starting XI. The club didn’t sit idle during the midseason transfer window either, signing Spanish players Esther González and Maitane López, both of whom started in the 2023 title game. They also signed Katie Stengel, first on loan and then by permanent transfer. The forward came in off the bench in the semifinal to score a rocket and lead Gotham to their first championship game.

That much change in one year was warranted after the team’s 2022 results, but there was no guarantee of immediate success with that many new personalities in the locker room. Gotham’s players, however, found ways to connect quickly, relying on shared histories and a desire to win.

“I think the thing is, a lot of us have known each other for years,” Purce said during NWSL Championship week.

“I did U-17s with Ify [Onumonu] and Mandy [Freeman], I lived with Ify for a while. I’ve known Delaney [Sheehan] for a long time. Ali Krieger gave me my high school award. Allie Long was one of the first people to ever talk to me at national team camp,” she continued. “So I think there’s a lot of crossover through a lot of the age groups, and then we have a lot of veterans. I think we have a really strong leadership core that knows how to win, and I think that’s been really indispensable.”

González and Williams, proven winners, scored the two goals to earn Gotham the title, but it was Purce who facilitated the team’s biggest moments by notching both assists. For one brilliant 90-minute period, the team’s past and present formed an unbeatable force. Longtime Gotham backup keeper Amanda Haught once again stood strong against an onslaught from OL Reign, and Krieger played some of the best soccer of her life in the final matches of her career.

Other teams will have to be similarly aggressive and good judges of player character to replicate Gotham’s accomplishments. It’s not always easy to handpick the personalities that will be entering your locker room, or know how players with greater seniority will process sweeping changes.

The Bats got that mix exactly right this year, but as is the case in sports, they will be presented with similar decisions to make for 2024. Many players considered important leaders for the team, including goalkeeper Michelle Betos and midfielder McCall Zerboni, are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginning. They also have former starters now coming off the bench, like Onumonu, who might be searching for starting opportunities elsewhere.

The club will also be dealing with one of the best problems they could have — becoming a well-regarded destination. This year’s free agency period holds top talent, including three-time NWSL champions Crystal Dunn and Becky Sauerbrunn. If Gotham wants to replenish their roster with even more winning talent, they’ll have the opportunity.

But if Gotham followed in the footsteps of the 2021 Washington Spirit by catching fire at exactly the right time to launch themselves to unprecedented success, they’ll want to avoid coming back down. The Spirit have yet to return to the playoffs since their championship win, despite consistent investment in growing their front-office infrastructure.

Getting to the top is hard, but staying there is harder. Averbuch and Amorós will have to stay vigilant to keep their club from being remembered as a one-hit wonder.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Gotham FC celebrated the first NWSL title in franchise history in raucous fashion, and midfielder Kristie Mewis chronicled all the action.

After defeating OL Reign, 2-1, in the championship match, Gotham players marked the occasion in the traditional manner: a team dogpile, followed by the trophy presentation and locker room party. But they added their own twists, throwing in a toss of retiring captain Ali Krieger, an on-field conga line and an improvised slip-and-slide.

A connoisseur of championship bashes, Mewis established her credentials in the aftermath of the Houston Dash’s 2020 Challenge Cup tournament victory. And she brought that experience to bear Saturday at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium.

She documented the celebration in a series of videos posted to her Instagram Stories, with teammates Kelley O’Hara and Lynn Williams among those featured. She also posted a photo and a video with just one caption between them: “Dudeeeeeeeeee.”

From Midge Purce receiving the match MVP award to Ali Krieger hoisting the new NWSL championship trophy to Gotham players attempting to drink from said trophy, check out some of the best scenes from the post-victory revelry.

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Teammates lift Gotham captain Ali Krieger, who won her first NWSL title in the final match of her career. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
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Kristie Mewis celebrates Gotham's title win on the podium at Snapdragon Stadium. (Ben Nichols/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
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Midge Purce won the Championship MVP award after assisting on each of Gotham's goals in the 2-1 win. (Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)
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Ali Krieger hoists the NWSL Championship trophy with her teammates. (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)
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Lynn Williams and Kristie Mewis lead Gotham teammates in a conga line after their championship win. (Jessica Alcheh/USA TODAY Sports)
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Kristie Mewis celebrates Gotham FC's title win. (Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)
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Gotham FC players attempt to drink from the decidedly not cup-shaped NWSL Championship trophy. (Jessica Alcheh/USA TODAY Sports)
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Gotham FC players turn the floor of the Snapdragon Stadium locker room into an impromptu slip-and-slide. (Jessica Alcheh/USA TODAY Sports)

Kelley O’Hara joined Gotham FC as a splashy free agent signing ahead of the 2023 season. And from the very first day of practice, the U.S. women’s national team defender knew the club had championship potential.

On Just Women’s Sports’ Super Show at the NWSL Championship, O’Hara recalled the first day the team came together. First-year head coach Juan Carlos Amorós laid out his vision for the season, and O’Hara felt a spark.

“I was like, wow, this is the first time I’ve sat in a room the first day of season and been like, we could we could win a championship,” O’Hara told co-hosts Christine Williamson and Sarah Gorden.

While Gotham snuck into the postseason as the No. 6 seed, they have won both of their playoff games — the first two playoff wins in franchise history — to reach the NWSL Championship final at 8 p.m. ET Saturday against OL Reign.

Gotham midfielder Allie Long also felt the potential of the team from the start of the season.

“The group that we have is really special,” Long said. “And so I’ve always had this feeling that — of course, you set that goal, and it’s such a competitive league — but yeah, we set that goal. I haven’t taken my eyes off (it).”

The team carries some extra incentive into the championship match, as they are looking to send retiring captain Ali Krieger out with a bang.

“We want to send her out the right way,” O’Hara said.

The Reign are looking to do the same for retiring star Megan Rapinoe. Neither Krieger nor Rapinoe — and neither Gotham FC nor OL Reign — have won a title. And while O’Hara can’t root for Rapinoe, she is glad to see Krieger and Rapinoe end their career on such a fitting stage.

“It’s so good. You can’t write a better script in sports,” O’Hara said. “It’s very, very cool, and they both deserve to have the opportunity to potentially win a championship.”

Get ready for the 2023 NWSL Championship with the Just Women’s Sports Super Show, hosted by Sarah Gorden and Christine Williamson.

The two break down the matchup between OL Reign and Gotham FC while also recapping a hectic 2023 season. Special guests include San Diego Wave’s Jaedyn Shaw, Gotham FC’s Kelley O’Hara and Allie Long, Angel City FC’s Sydney Leroux and Ali Riley, Kansas City’s Lo’eau LaBonta, and Just Women’s Sports’ own Claire Watkins.

It’s the funnest, rowdiest NWSL Championship preview you’ll find anywhere.

Preview the 2023 NWSL Championship by tuning into the Just Women’s Sports Super Show Presented by State Farm, featuring surprise guest appearances by NWSL stars. Watch here.

Kelley O’Hara will not be rooting for Megan Rapinoe in the last game of her professional soccer career.

While O’Hara is excited she’ll get to be on the field for Rapinoe’s sendoff during the NWSL Championship between O’Hara’s Gotham FC and Rapinoe’s OL Reign on Saturday, she’s keeping the battle lines drawn.

“I wasn’t able to go to Pinoe’s last national team game,” O’Hara said during media day on Thursday. “So I was thinking the other day I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I’ll get to be at her last game actually.’ So that’s exciting. I, unfortunately, cannot hope for her to have a good last game.”

That feeling is shared by Gotham midfielder Allie Long, who doesn’t want to hear from Rapinoe until after the final whistle blows. Gotham defender Ali Krieger is also playing in her last game Saturday before she heads off into retirement alongside Rapinoe.

“Once we knew we’re playing them, I’m like, ‘Don’t text me. I don’t want to see you,'” she said. “I feel like maybe if it wasn’t [Krieger]’s last game, Pinoe’s last game [would be different]. I feel very loyal. Even if we’re in season [and] it’s not a final, once the whistle blows, it’s like alright. And maybe before the game, we might hug it out. But we’re not pookies until after.”

O’Hara acknowledged that the narrative of Krieger and Rapinoe playing against one another in the final is “pretty incredible.”

“I mean, you can’t come up with a better storyline than the two of them playing their last game against each other for a championship,” she said. “It’s pretty incredible. And obviously what those two have done for not only this league. but the U.S. team and just soccer in general in this country, around the world, has been incredible.

“It is really crazy that it’s actually happening, and I’m so happy that it is.”

Krieger and Rapinoe will both be looking to win the first NWSL Championship of their careers, as will OL Reign and Gotham FC in the history of their organizations.

Jenna Nighswonger stepped into a Gotham FC roster full of U.S. women’s national team veterans and current stars. And the NWSL Rookie of the Year candidate still made a name for herself.

The 22-year-old credits her success to her teammates, who put her at ease as soon as she stepped onto the field — even as she navigated a position change.

Drafted out of Florida State as a forward, Nighswonger made her name in her first season as a fullback, becoming a mainstay for Gotham in her new role. While she is still working on her defensive skills, she has enjoyed bringing an attacking mindset to the position as well.

And her fellow  players, including Gotham FC captain and defender Ali Krieger, have been “so helpful” in her finding her confidence on defense, she said Thursday. Even if it was a little intimidating at first.

“I think the biggest thing that stands out to me is I was just quite nervous to come into a team with names like Ali Krieger, Lynn Williams, Kelley O’Hara,” she said Thursday. “Just because I didn’t really know. I [had] never met them before.”

But in meeting the international stars on the Gotham FC roster for the first time, Nighswonger found them to be “such good people.” The roster for the New Jersey-based club features not just Krieger, Williams and O’Hara but also USWNT players Midge Purce and Kristie Mewis, as well as Nigeria’s Ifeoma Onumonu, Spain’s Esther González and Brazil’s Bruninha.

“Everyone on the team is just amazing and they’ve been so welcoming,” she said, noting that she’s grown more comfortable with time. “I hope everyone else feels [comfortable]. We just have such a great group of girls and I think that we’re all willing to work so hard for each other and do whatever it takes to get to the final. I think it’s just amazing how in a matter of like a few months I just feel so comfortable with a whole new group of girls.”

Nighswonger and her Gotham FC teammates will face the No. 2 seed Portland Thorns at 7 p.m. ET Sunday in the NWSL semifinals with a shot in the championship match on the line.