Thursday night marked the last time veteran winger and notorious "game face" wearer Heather O'Reilly will sport the U.S. crest as a women's national team player, and she ensured fans witnessing her performance in Columbus would not soon forget her.
In an international friendly against Thailand, two of the most seasoned American players would headline the box score in a 9-0 rout staged at MAPFRE Stadium.
O'Reilly has borne the number 9 jersey ever since the esteemed Mia Hamm handed down the number upon retiring in 2004. During pregame festivities commemorating the player known by the nickname HAO for her time as both a junior and senior American player, Hamm was on hand and the first to embrace O'Reilly after her name was announced. Hugs with family and a photo opportunity to give the MAPFRE crowd a chance for a proper sendoff.
"I mean, what an unbelievable honor for Mia to be here, on this game, for me. Obviously, she's a legend that I grew up watching and learning from when I was her teammate, and it was an incredible honor for her to be there for me tonight. It meant a whole lot," O'Reilly said after the match, a slight emotional note in her voice.
Just before kickoff, Megan Rapinoe protested by kneeling during the national anthem after speculation had mounted as to whether or not she would indeed do so while wearing the colors of her country. Rapinoe stood respectfully for the Thai anthem before dropping to her right knee upon the first note of the "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Head coach Jill Ellis said she felt Rapinoe's political statement did not overshadow a night that was designed to be all about HAO.
"The most important thing for me was Heather O'Reilly having a fitting sendoff game … in terms of with the team, internally, externally, what we did and how we tried to honor her," Ellis said in a postgame press conference. "My personal feeling is I don't think that [Rapinoe's protest] detracted from Heather O'Reilly tonight, in terms of how much she's appreciated by the fans, her teammates, and just the memories she'll have from this game."
As the game began, O'Reilly wasted no time in etching her name even more indelibly into the record books.
Her assist on's 34-year-old Carli Lloyd's goal just 43 seconds in to the match tied Julie Foudy's mark of 55 career helpers, good for fifth all-time in program history.
It was a picturesque play set up by the honorary captain and finished into the south goal's netting by the woman who normally wears the armband. Lloyd ceded the duties in the match to O'Reilly on a night the team would go on to honor one of its own both before, during and after the contest.
Lloyd played the full 90 minutes but never slowed in her production as the night wore on, producing a hat trick and a whopping four assists throughout the game.
Even more remarkable still is that Lloyd had at least two other promising chances repelled by Thai goalkeeper Yada Sengyong, who despite a rough start early against one of the premier sides in the world, went on to earn seven saves and the audible respect of the pro-American crowd of 10,490.
It initially seemed as though the USWNT might elect to play for possession and taper off its plan of attack after notching three goals in the first five minutes of play. Thailand couldn't get much going in its offensive third, since the American midfield swarmed aggressively to the ball throughout the first half and actively tried to dispossess the visitors when they had the ball, often succeeding. It became quickly apparent that a U.S. miscue and a Thai counterattack was the only chance the outmatched Southeast Asian team would have to be able to get on the board at all.
They would not, as keeper Ashlyn Harris maintained a clean sheet for the Stars and Stripes, saving two of the four Thai shots on goal. Contrast this with the 16 shots on goal launched by American feet and heads, and those statistics are still kinder than the lopsided disparity in quality that was apparent on the field.
Lloyd and a deep bench of talented substitutes further ripped the game wide open in the second half after only leading 4-0 at the break.
Lloyd scored two of her three goals after halftime, while Crystal Dunn came on in the 64th minute and scored six minutes later on a Becky Sauerbrunn assist. Fan favorite Alex Morgan was subbed on at the half, but she would finish off the scoring for the U.S., tallying goals in both the 86th minute and two minutes into second-half stoppage time.
Christen Press and Tobin Heath provided the other two goals for Ellis' group.
All in all, however, the Thai team edged out the US in two areas on the night. The USWNT was flagged four times for being offside, compared to Thailand's zero, and substitute Lindsey Horan was awarded the sole yellow card of the match for a physical challenge in the 90th minute. Team USA committed six fouls, twice as many as were whistled for Thailand.
O'Reilly seemed visibly pleased and touched by her peers' interpretation of the final score line Thurdsay: "As the team said, it was 9-0 for No. 9."
The American squad will travel to Atlanta for another friendly, this time of course without O'Reilly on the roster, and that will take place starting at 7 p.m. Sunday against the Netherlands in the Georgia Dome.