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Washington Spirit acquire USWNT defender Kelley O’Hara from Utah Royals FC

After months of rumors, the Spirit have added one of the most decorated players in American soccer history

Hannah Wagner / Courtesy of Washington Spirit

Kelley O’Hara is, after months of rumors and reports, a Washington Spirit player. The USWNT defender has joined the Spirit after a trade that sent $75,000 in allocation money and to Utah Royals FC in exchange for the two-time World Cup champion. There are also further conditions related to playing time that could trigger additional compensation going to Utah.

The move comes just one day after the club signed Japanese international Saori Takarada to a two-year contract, and two days after announcing a new two-year deal for Spirit original Tori Huster. Steve Goff of The Washington Post first reported that the deal was done yesterday, and has said that the conditional portion of the deal involves a 2022 first round draft pick if O’Hara appears in half of the Spirit’s games in 2021:

The Spirit currently hold two (their natural pick, and one acquired from OL Reign in the deal that sent Rose Lavelle’s NWSL rights to Tacoma). Sources have told Black and Red United a similar version of events, though it is unclear whether the conditions involve a first round pick going to Utah no matter what, or if they get the pick only if O’Hara appears in at least 50% of Washington’s games.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to get Kelley O’Hara to our club,” said Spirit head coach Richie Burke via team press release. “Kelley adds world-class quality to our current squad and is a fantastic addition to our young team. As a World Cup winner and FIFPro World XI player, we have added some valuable experience. More importantly, we’ve added another player who has a winning mentality, and someone who will contribute enormously to our team environment. I’m excited to get started with Kelley as soon as possible and can’t wait to integrate her into our club.”

In the same release, O’Hara said “I am ecstatic to join the Washington Spirit. It has always been a dream of mine to be able to play in the city I call home. This is a young and exciting team with lots of potential and I am looking forward to providing veteran experience to the squad. I can’t wait to get to work on the field with the team and Richie, and to be able to make an impact off the field in the community. I want to bring a championship to Spirit fans and the District, and make soccer this city’s favorite sport.”

O’Hara, 32, has lived in the D.C. area for months, and rumors of an impending deal have carried on for a large portion of that time. At one point, a deal was so close that one source told Black and Red United that the trade was, in fact, complete; at another, The Washington Post quoted a source that considered the deal “dead.”

On top of two World Cup titles, O’Hara also has a gold medal from the USWNT’s victory in the 2012 Olympics, and has 132 international caps. Her most recent appearance came just last week, when she played 76 minutes at right back as Vlatko Andonovski’s side defeated the Netherlands 2-0. Barring injury — something of a concern after she spent most of 2020 battling an ankle injury that required surgery at one point — she will be a favorite to be selected for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo.

O’Hara, who recently trained with D.C. United’s academy side, figures to be the Spirit’s starting right back, allowing players like Tori Huster and Dorian Bailey (both natural midfielders) to see more time at their best positions. However, with Tegan McGrady having also dealt with injury and USWNT call-ups likely to keep O’Hara occupied for much of 2021, serious depth at both fullback positions will be vital.

While Washington has several players pushing for more prominent roles with the USWNT, 2020 has seen both Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle leave the club. O’Hara, one of the most decorated players in American soccer history, will undoubtedly be part of the club’s push for more prominence nationally and locally.

Despite trading allocation money away, Washington retains a positive balance on that front. Their only previous trade involving that mechanism was when they received $100,000 from OL Reign as part of the deal that sent Rose Lavelle’s NWSL rights west.