FourFourTwo USA's 50 Best American Women's Players of 2017: No. 8, Kelley O'Hara
Within the context of her career, 2017 may be remembered as the year Kelley O’Hara firmly established herself as one of the world’s best fullbacks. And given she now seems finally, fully committed to the position, it’s worth asking how high O’Hara can go in the role.
Fullback isn’t new to the 29-year-old, who has been playing the position for the better part of six years after being developed as an attacker. But those who remember her contributions at the 2015 World Cup probably remember a late-match, energy option to revitalize the midfield. Even at the beginning of the NWSL’s 2017 season, she was still being used out wide in Sky Blue’s attack, a role that changed early in the season.
From the moment then coach Christy Holly moved her to right back, through the end of the league’s regular season, O’Hara was the NWSL’s best fullback, and despite what the league’s Defender of the Year and Best XI voting suggested, it wasn’t particularly close. For a Sky Blue team that had only one real attacking option (Sam Kerr), O’Hara’s presence out wide proved crucial.
Her ability to read situations and make use of space was essential as defenses concentrated more and more on her evermore potent teammate. The connection she was able to establish with the league MVP was a major part of the Australian’s record-breaking campaign, though her four goals and three assists barely speak to the impact she was able to have on an oft-potent Sky Blue attack.
For the national team, the connection O’Hara eventually establishes with whomever’s chose in front of her will be key to the U.S.’ chances come the summer of 2019. In the interim, though, it’s clear that O’Hara’s part of the equation won’t be the problem. Compare her skills, work ethic, fitness and experience to the rest of the world’s fullbacks and you’ll find few as capable of meeting the demands of the modern fullback.
She is, unfairly, omitted from most conversations trying to identify the best fullbacks in the world, since some still don’t see defense as her real position. But with both club and country finally fully committed to seeing what O’Hara does at the spot, the question may shift. No longer will people ask whether she should be played in defense or attack. Now, people will ask how spectacular of a fullback Kelley O’Hara might become.