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Portland Thorns: We’ve Got Tobin Heath

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

 

The Portland Thorns went through a major overhaul this season, revamping their roster after a disappointing 2015 campaign, in hopes of returning to the glory of 2013 when the Thorns won the first ever NWSL championship. So far, the new roster is a smashing success. They have already bettered their (ahem) success away from Providence Park from last year, posting a 1-0-3 record on their recent four-game road swing, and are proving to be more than lethal at home. But, it’s the more familiar faces having the biggest impact this season, and none more than Tobin Heath. 

Through two home games I have witnessed this season, Heath is becoming more and more that player you can’t take your eyes off, and you would be foolish to do so. She is the Thorns’ version of Damian Lillard (who just so happened to attend the Thorns game last Saturday evening), a magnetic and talented athlete who finally seems to be hitting her stride as a player and a leader. Alex who? We have Tobin Heath.

The 27-year-old Heath has been with the Thorns since the team’s inception in 2013, when she scored the go-ahead goal in the championship game on a ridiculously long free kick, securing her status as an MVP type player. 

Not since that inaugural season have the Thorns seen that kind of potential from Heath--whether it be because of international commitments or having to play alongside Alex Morgan. This year, however, she seems to be putting teams on notice. She is finally off whatever leash she had been attached to and is ready to become a major factor this season in the NWSL. After all, this is someone who is a NCAA All-American, was U.S. Soccer’s Young Female Athlete of the Year (2009), and won the PSG Best Player of the Year (2013). She was the first player selected in the 2010 Women’s Professional Soccer draft. She is an Olympic and World Cup champion. Perhaps, more importantly, she is only one of two women on EA Sports’ FIFA 16 to earn a five-star skill. 

This year, she has already been named NWSL Player of the Month for April in recognition of her recording four assists in three performances. I doubt it will be her last. All three of Lindsey Horan’s goals this year, the leading scorer on the Thorns and in the NWSL, have come from a Tobin assist, and while Heath may only have one goal so far this season, look for that number to rise in the coming weeks. For now, Heath and Horan will have to settle for being the best 1-2 punch in the league.

More importantly than stats, Heath sets the tone for the Thorns. Her speed, her dazzling ability to control the ball, her quickness on defense, all of it is a nightmare for opponents on the pitch. The offense flows around her like some kind of Jedi-soccer mind trick at work. Thorns coach Mark Parsons said it best after the first game of the season, “We’ve got f**king Tobin Heath. When we get her the ball, special things happen.” 

The best thing that has happened to the Heath, and to the Thorns, is her ability to recognize that growing up is just another phase of the game, one that can only make you a substantially better athlete. Heath has always been able to incite awes with her footwork, utilizing it anytime she pleased. Now, however, she has found that sweet spot of sports nirvana, that place of knowing when to dazzle and knowing when to just get the job done. Her maturity, even calling herself “old” during a recent interview, mixed with the additional freedom that Parsons has allowed her, has been bliss for both the team and the fans. She seems more patient, like the game has slowed down even if she has not, allowing her to make better decisions while maintaining the high level of excitement she can bring to any play. Because of her newfound status as leader, and AARP card member, Heath now leads the team and the league with five total assists, far surpassing any previous year’s totals with Portland. But, make no mistake, she still knows and likes to entertain. 

On Saturday evening, in a 4-1 win against then-undefeated Washington Spirit, Heath again was the most entertaining player to watch. Her presence was felt both offensively and defensively, whether she was assisting on a goal, scoring a goal, or making a gliding defensive stop, she did it all for the Thorns, though she had plenty of help from Horan, Nadia Nadim, and Meg Morris among others (I’m looking at you Spirit defender Alyssa Kleiner) in a dominate team effort. Tobin’s ceiling as a player is as limitless as they come, and with it the potential for the Thorns. 

The Washington game marked a new beginning of sorts for the team, returning to Providence Park in what felt like a second home opener to the season. With their longest road trip of the season already behind them, the Thorns now have a home-heavy schedule, strongly positioning themselves to make a run to the playoffs. This coming Sunday, the Thorns take on arch rivals Hope Solo and the Seattle Reign, looking to keep their unbeaten record intact. I’m not concerned, however; we have (bleepin’) Tobin Heath. 

 

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