Houston Dash forward and team captain Kealia Ohai has been the hottest scorer in the NWSL over the last month of the season. In her last two games she has tallied 4 goals earning her the National Women’s Soccer League Player of the Week honors. With a career high nine goals this season, Ohai has quickly silenced many who wondered what happened to her ability to put the ball past the keeper and lead her team to victory. The third year pro has recorded a goal or an assist in seven consecutive games dating back to July 16th. The forward has shot to the top of the NWSL goal scorers list. As most scorers, her biggest strength is her self belief. It is a quiet confidence that has led the Draper, Utah native to be one of the best at her craft.
Early in her career, Orange in the Oven (OITO) talked with her about the transition from the college level to the professional ranks and how difficult it was to ignore people who would talk about her lack of scoring. At that time she told OITO that forwards get judged on putting the ball in the net and that you could be playing the best soccer of your career but not scoring and those outside the game would see that as not doing your job. In each of her first three seasons in the league though, Ohai has not only consistently led her team in scoring but has been one of the top assist leaders in the NWSL. This season the 2015 Houston Dash team MVP and the Player’s Player has taken her game to a whole new level.
Now her game has not just teammates but opponents speaking out about the Dash’s talented forward. On their last visit to town on August 18th, Washington Spirit and USWNT defender Ali Krieger had the task of containing Ohai.
“She (Ohai) is incredible,” remarked Krieger enthusiastically. “A younger player but she is also a leader on the team and she has stepped into that role tremendously. Obviously you want to play against the best in the league and she is one of them so going against her is just making me better.”
Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris echoed similar sentiments after Ohai put two more by her Saturday night in a 4-2 win.
“I think you should be talking about Kealia,” said Harris. “That kid is unbelievable and has a great future. She is doing incredibly well. She sets herself up well. She plays well. She plays like a pro and she clearly finishes like a pro.”
Over the last three years, the 24 year old has become a student of the game. She has spent hours in training and watching film improving her game from a tactical sense. One of her biggest improvements she told OITO has been learning to read her center mids better. It doesn’t hurt to work with players like Denise O’Sullivan and Carli Lloyd she says describing them as the engine of the team. Playing with O’Sullivan day in and day out with the Olympians gone gave her a chance to learn her tendencies which allowed Ohai to be in a better position to make a run and receive the ball. As for Lloyd, she emphasized that USWNT co-captain is such a dynamic player in the field that everyone’s play is elevated and she makes plays even on an off day that few others can.
“I definitely want her (Lloyd) on my team when I step on the pitch,” said Ohai. “Even on an off day, she is unbelievable.”
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The other point the former U-20 national team star has spent hours improving upon is her ability to get inside and work across the frame. It is one of the things that has given head coach Randy Waldrum an even more dangerous weapon on the field no matter where he pencils number seven into the starting eleven.
Like all good goal scorers, Ohai has had her streaks but nothing has compared to this. She told OITO that she has had series where she would score in the quarterfinals, the semis and finals but this is crazy in a good way. She remarked that sometimes even she has wondered how the ball goes in considering the angle maybe that shot came from however she reminded us that every shot she takes she expects it to go in.
Scoring and assisting on goals is nothing new to the two time NWSL Player of the Week. Many soccer fans will remember that she was doing these things at the international level just a few short years ago scoring the game winner in a 1-0 win over Germany to secure the 2012 FIFA U-20 World Cup title. She assisted on both goals in a 2-1 championship win over Canada in the CONCACAF title match and the list goes on. She was doing the same at the collegiate level where she not only scored 40 goals and recorded 26 assists in 86 career games in a University of North Carolina kit but she led the Lady Tar Heels to the 2012 national title. It was her patented right footed blast that pushed UNC by Stanford 1-0 in the NCAA semifinals that season. No one should be surprised that now she is doing as a professional.
It is hard work and dedication to the game she loves that has earned her the title of captain in just her third season. An honor she relishes every day she comes to work knowing that her teammates are looking for her to set the tone.
It was so amazing to be voted the team captain,” continued Ohai. “I am only in my third year and could I step up and take charge like the team needed was a question I needed to answer for myself. I believe that I lead by my example on the field. I work hard to be the best I can be. It is an honor to wear the captain’s armband.”
The armband brings with a responsibility of shouldering the pressure of six consecutive 1-0 losses. During that stretch the demeanor of a player who was expected to score and did not stayed constant. Her teammates saw a player who entered the field of play each time expecting to play her best and deliver a positive result and they followed suit.
The four time Alta high school state soccer champion gives much of the credit for her success to her sister Megan. The wife Texans linebacker Brian Cushing was a top soccer player in her own right finishing in the all-time top ten in scoring and game winning goals at the the University of Southern California not to mention she won a national title too.
“Winning is the top priority,” concluded Ohai in her time with OITO. “If I am not scoring and we aren’t winning, it’s hard. If we win and I don’t score, everyone is happy. Scoring is an individual achievement but winning is a team achievement and that is more important than anything else.”