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In an exclusive interview ahead of the women’s World Cup, Eight by Eight’s Andrew Helms caught up with U.S. Women’s National Team star Kelley O’Hara to hear about how the U.S. team is getting ready to win it all in Canada

Kelley O'Hara

Before she was on an Under Armour ad near you, I met Kelley O’Hara several times in college through mutual friends. In the years since, she has played in a World Cup, won an Olympic gold medal, and earned 58 caps with the women’s national team, which puts the two goals I scored in my co-ed rec league match last week in rather harsh perspective. In Newport Beach with the U.S. Women’s National Team ahead of the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, we caught up to talk about how she handles the pressure that comes with high expectations, her love of surfing, and the music you’d hear if you were in the locker room with the team this summer in Canada (Spotify playlist included!). All these years later, she’s still as relentlessly positive and enthusiastic a person as you will ever meet. Here’s a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:

So last weekend you had your first tune up match against Ireland. How do you think it went?

We won 3-0, and that’s good. I think that we can be more accurate on our crosses because the way that they were playing, it translated into us getting on the outside and playing balls into the box because they were hunkering down, kind of parking the bus. So we just need to be more accurate and finish those chances. It’s another step towards the World Cup and I think that hopefully we can take the positives and keep carrying on to Canada.

Hopefully, you won’t encounter too many teams who are parking the bus in Canada, 

Yeah, but I mean I think that there is possibility. And hopefully we don’t because if a team is parking the bus it probably means that they went up a goal, or maybe they started the game that way. It’s definitely a possibility, and I think we are ready for that. I think we do have the tools to combat that.

I saw the other day that you posted a picture surfing. Did you have the day off and some time to relax after the game?

We actually flew back [from San Jose] Sunday night. We’re stationed in Newport Beach right now so we were here the week before we went to San Jose for the game and now we’re back. We had all of Monday off except for most of the team had to do EKGs and echos, which are FIFA rules before the World Cup. But yeah, we had the day off otherwise so I went surfing with a couple teammates and a friend from college. It was a good time!

That sounds like a good way to stay relaxed in the midst of a tough camp?

Absolutely. I equate surfing to mental balance, and it makes me feel so much better. Whether I go out and it’s a good day for me surfing or not, I just love being in the water, I l love being in the sunshine and being in the ocean is so nice. It’s just really, really calming, just to kind of a recharge for going through the grind here.

From what I’ve heard, the mood in camp seems like it’s really focused but has a bit of that relaxed surf vibe. Does that sound right from what you’re seeing?

Yeah, absolutely, I think that’s a really cool characteristic of this team. Everyone is super professional and is super focused, all the time not even just around the World Cup, I would say. But it’s not walking on eggshells or anything, I still think we have a good time. I went to practice with a big smile on my face this morning, I was excited to be out there, and most girls are like that and I think it’s good.

Personally, this is your second World Cup after being on the team in 2011, and I’m curious how you feel your role on the team has evolved during that time?

Going into the 2011 World Cup, I had zero expectations. I made the roster because someone else got injured so I was just there to be a practice player and cheer my little butt off on the bench. Now, after being with this team through the 2012 Olympics and even longer, I have much more experience, a lot more caps, I’m basically ready to play whatever role Jill asks of me, and I’m excited about it.

Do you feel like a veteran at this point?

Yeah, maybe? I do feel like I have a lot of experience and I’m confident in that way, but also I always kind of feel like the young kid even though I’m not anymore.

So maybe not trying to not feel as old as we actually are right now?

Yeah, I think I try to live like that in all aspects of my life, not just soccer. It’s all mental.

From the outside, it seems like a lot of these World Cups or other major tournaments are how my mom used to describe going to the airport, “Hurry up and wait!” You rush and hustle to get there, but once you’re there, you do have a fair bit of down time. Does that sound right to you?

Yeah, your mom is correct. Anytime you get into a tournament it’s basically just the preparation phase and then once the games start it’s really playing the games, and then recovering and being ready for the next game. You’re trying to get fit, it’s all there and you’re ready to go. So, I would say we play board games. Lots of Settlers of Catan, and then lots of Hulu, Netflix, and binge TV watching. That’s pretty much what we do.

What’s your Settlers of Catan strategy? Do you always go for the longest road? 

No, actually, I don’t. It’s not Road Builders of Catan, it’s Settlers of Catan, which my brother told me awhile ago so I try to stick to that advice.

I’ve always wondered, who gets to pick the locker room music? 

So, Lauren Holliday, she is usually DJ, but she will occasionally pass that off to me if she doesn’t feel up to the pressure. And I gladly accept. It’s pretty much like hip-hop, pop, or rap. We do throw in a some country, that song “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown Band. It’s good, it’s lively. Sometimes it starts out chill, you’ve got to let it build, it’s very curated. [Editor’s Note: We asked Kelley to share her locker room playlist with us and it’s embedded below. Give it a listen and imagine that you’re in the locker room with the #USWNT. We hope you enjoy!]

So what should we expect from you guys in Canada?

You should expect the best, because that’s what we expect for ourselves. And to win. Absolutely, that’s the expectation, inside or outside the team, I think that’s fair.

How does that shape the way your approach the tournament, knowing that the end goal is to win?

For me, I adopted this mentality my senior year in college because I would get so caught up in the goal of winning the national championship. When I go into a tournament, or a season, I’ve taught myself how to just take it one game at a time. There’s only the 90 minutes in front of you. And then after that you reevaluate, and you prepare for the next 90 minutes. There’s no reason to look forward. Even though there is the expectation that we want to win, for me, it’s all about the present. If you don’t do what you need to do in those 90 minutes, it doesn’t matter about the last game. So you’ve got to focus on the task at hand.

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