Heather O'Reilly is back where she became one of the stars of women's college soccer. She wishes one of her former North Carolina teammates could join her.
Instead, the U.S. team is learning to play without former Tar Heel Lindsay Tarpley, who will miss the upcoming Women's World Cup with a knee injury.
The Americans' first game without the versatile midfielder comes Wednesday night when they play Japan in their next-to-last tuneup before the World Cup.
''She's one of the best teammates out there, one of the classiest players out there,'' O'Reilly said. ''But you know what, this team is strong. We all need to raise our levels now when Lindsay's not there, and we're definitely going to play for her in Germany.''
Tarpley, a key part of the 2007 World Cup team and the gold-medal teams at the 2004 and '08 Olympics, will miss 6-8 months after tearing her right anterior cruciate ligament last weekend in an exhibition win over Japan. She had two goals and an assist in five games this year, starting once.
Coach Pia Sundhage said she is evaluating her options for filling Tarpley's roster spot, and said it probably will remain vacant until after the U.S. wraps up its pre-World Cup exhibition schedule June 5 against Mexico. Three weeks later, the Americans play their World Cup opener against Korea in Dresden, Germany.
''She was versatile, and she helped us in the flanks and up top, and at times, even central underneath the forwards,'' Sundhage said. ''So (the U.S. is looking for) a player that's versatile and has a little bit of a bite, because it's not only the games, it's also about the practices going up to the first game.''
The Americans' plan for the middle exhibition game, Sundhage said, is to fine-tune some tactical strategies, try out a couple of different formations and figure out when to turn up the pressure on their opponent.
''We always want to win, but these prep games are about us and about us playing the style of soccer that we want to bring to Germany,'' O'Reilly said. ''Defensively, we're very tidy right now. We've kind of closed a lot of gaps in areas where we've given up goals. Offensively, we're just continuing to work on our rhythm, continuing to pick when it's time to go forward or when it's time to possess, and just keep continuing to work off each other and just find that rhythm and that patience.''
The Americans' workouts early this week had a decided North Carolina flavor, with a pair of ex-Tar Heels - O'Reilly and fellow midfielder Tobin Heath - on the pitch while their decorated college coach, Anson Dorrance, watched from the sideline.
And, yes, O'Reilly half-expected to hear her former coach barking orders from the bench.
''I did look over a couple of times, but he behaved himself,'' O'Reilly said with a laugh. ''Being back here reminds me of the qualities that I had at UNC that I bring to the U.S. team, and that's a lot of attacking soccer ... and a competitive attitude. Being back here just reminds me of the things that I try to bring every single day.''