Heather Mitts Feeley experienced Cincinnati’s embrace of soccer when she and the rest of the 2004 Olympic gold medal U.S. women’s national team played a game at Paul Brown Stadium as part of its victory tour shortly after winning the championship.
The international friendly drew more than 18,000 fans, and the former St. Ursula Academy standout had an inkling then that professional soccer could someday stick in her hometown.
Twelve years later, Feeley — now a sideline reporter, color commentator, wife to former NFL quarterback A.J. Feeley (since 2010) and mother of two — is glad to see the city enjoying professional soccer through first-year FC Cincinnati. The club sits in third place in the United Soccer League Eastern Conference at season’s midpoint and continues to smash the league’s attendance standards.
FCC (9-2-4) plays two games on the road this week, at Rochester on Wednesday and at St. Louis on Saturday, before returning home for an international friendly against Crystal Palace on July 16.
“Following the (U.S. women’s national team) victory tour success here, I always wished Cincinnati would start a pro team people could take seriously,” said Feeley, who helped St. Ursula to a Division I state title in 1993 and played at the University of Florida before going on to play professionally. She made 137 appearances with the women’s national team between 1999 and 2013, when she retired, including playing on three Olympic gold medal squads.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season,” she said of FC Cincinnati’s inaugural season. “The fans are a big part of that.”
The former defender received an up-close look at FC Cincinnati last month when she was recognized at the home game against Toronto FC II on June 18. The following weekend, she served as a guest sideline reporter at the match at Louisville City.
FC Cincinnati general manager and president Jeff Berding said he'd met Feeley at a Bengals game, when she was recognized after one of her three Olympic gold medal wins. She also had some other connections with FCC front office staff, and the club thought it would be nice to bring her back to her hometown for a game.
Feeley helped present the winners of the Father’s Day drawing contest and was on hand to congratulate the youth soccer state champions who were recognized at the game as well.
“She’s a tremendous role model,” Berding said. “It shows with hard work anything is possible. She obviously had enormous God-given ability, but she was well known to be a tireless worker who made herself great, obviously with the support of her teammates and coaches along the years. It just shows kids in Cincinnati if you aspire to play professionally, you can get anywhere soccer will take you.
“I’d like to think our players and coaches are role models for youth soccer players, as well, but certainly Heather’s achievements speak for themselves and the quality person she is, and we wanted to honor her at some point. We were thrilled to have her. She was very personable and fun to work with.”
The timing worked out well following the end of Feeley’s annual soccer camp, which she held in Blue Ash the week leading up to the June 18 game.
Feeley lives in Philadelphia and has a full schedule juggling her role as a mother of two after she and A.J. welcomed the addition of daughter Blake Harper this spring. Their first child, a son named Connor, was born in 2014.
“It’s a big adjustment for everyone (having two kids),” Feeley said. “Every day gets a little easier. We are taking it in stride.”
Feeley has held a number of television commentary jobs and currently serves as host of NickSports’ Soccer SuperStar reality show about finding the next soccer super star; the show begins its second season July 15 at 9 p.m. She also will be releasing an online workout series that she filmed while pregnant, called Empowered Pregnancy.
The 38-year-old said she misses the camaraderie and traveling she experienced during her professional soccer career but noted she was “fortunate to walk away at the perfect time.” She still gets her soccer fix through some of the many sideline and studio analyst jobs she’s held over the years — some of which she started while still playing.
She was a studio soccer analyst for ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 during the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2003 and 2007 (she played in four games at the 2011 World Cup) and worked the 2015 World Cup for FOX. Feeley also has done sideline reporting and worked as a color analyst for MLS, college football and SEC soccer games, the latter of which she will resume in August.
Her ESPN3 guest sideline reporter appearance June 25 at the FC Cincinnati-Louisville game was — for now — a one-time thing, but one she relished.
“I enjoyed being able to be entrenched in the approach and success of the USL,” she said.
As for her thoughts on FC Cincinnati, Feeley has been impressed.
“John Harkes is doing an excellent job with a first-year team,” she said. “I like the style of play and the players that fit his system.”