This past week has been a rough one for Thorns’ fans depending on how you look at it. They couldn’t come out with a win against Orlando, they had to deal with some of the worst officiating ever, and oh yeah, Amandine Henry and Nadia Nadim are calling it quits in the NWSL after this season. But there was one bright spot out of this week – Tobin Heath is back. And because of how the final stretch of this season is shaping out, and because of potential gaps in the roster for next season, Heath has just become Portland’s most valuable asset. Here are the five reasons why:
Spark From Off The Bench
I’ll be honest and say that I don’t think Tobin Heath should play a full match this season. She should come off the bench. Her back injury kept her off the pitch for the majority of this season, so it obviously wasn’t a small issue. And these types of injuries are tricky things. So she shouldn’t be pushed too hard too early for fear of reinjury. But we do know that she can go for at least 30 minutes, as could be seen from last week. So most likely, by mid-October (if the Thorns punch their ticket to the final), Heath could be solid for a whole half. And she would make the perfect spark coming off the bench. She is creative, and she is a playmaker – something Portland could definitely use. Sure, it didn’t work perfectly versus Orlando, but it could be beneficial come the playoffs. And let’s not lie, it would put the opposing team on edge to see her checking in.
No Season-Long Fatigue
Sure, Tobin Heath isn’t up to form. I don’t think that her team, or anyone else for that matter, expects her to be. She hasn’t played a full match all season. But that isn’t necessarily the worst situation in the world. Because even though she isn’t in full form, she doesn’t have the season-long fatigue that every other player in the league is feeling at the moment. Her legs aren’t tired. She isn’t warding off those tiny bumps and bruises that pop up throughout the season and pester the average player. Right now she is healthy, and she is energized. And because of that, she could be a lot of trouble for tired back lines that have put in too many miles and minutes on their legs this season. It also allows some of the Portland midfield to rest their tired legs if those late minutes prove too be too much for them.
She Is Easy To Integrate In And Out
As well as having the soccer IQ equivalency of a Mensa member, Tobin Heath has the very advantage that allows her to come back to her team at a moment’s notice with minimal prep time: familiarity. A good amount of her teammates are women that she has been playing with for years. Even if we take out Allie Long, Lindsay Horan, and Meghan Klingenberg, we still have players that Heath has played on the Thorns with for numerous seasons, like Emily Menges and a pretty good forward by the name of Christine Sinclair. So even if there is a little disconnect from newer players, Tobin Heath is familiar to a good amount of the team. And for Portland heading into the post season, that makes her time on the pitch very important.
Pull Off The Upset
Even though Portland is sitting pretty in second place currently, they are not the favorite to win the NWSL Championship…not by a long shot. Not when North Carolina is looking as solid as they are, Orlando is as creative as they are, and Chicago having a roster that reads like an all-star match lineup. But Portland now has Tobin Heath again, and she could just be that extra oomph needed in order to bring that trophy home to Oregon. Not only is she one of the most creative players on the pitch at any time, but she also knows her opponents as well. And that is what makes her such a strong asset. I mean, look at the other USWNT current and former players that Portland are potentially playing in the next few weeks – Alex Morgan, Julie Ertz, Allie Krieger, Christen Press, Ashlyn Harris….I could go on. And it’s not that the rest of Portland doesn’t know how to handle these players, but they don’t have the skillset that Heath has to exploit their opponents’ weaknesses in the same way. Couple all that knowledge and skill with a pair of fresh legs (see: reason #2) and what do we have? Some major potential for an upset. And that is definitely what Portland wants at the end of the day.
Next Season And Beyond
The final reason that Tobin Heath just became Portland’s most valuable asset in the past week has nothing to do with this season, but everything to do with next season, and maybe further into the future as well. Nadia Nadim and Amandine Henry are packing up shop and heading back to Europe. Heck, I can’t blame them – they probably want the possibility to make more than $45,000 a year. But this leaves rather large gaps for the Thorns to fill. Luckily, these gaps are ones that Tobin can help with. But this also highlights exactly why she is so important to the Thorns’ future and why they should take extraordinary care to keep her healthy the rest of this season. Tobin Heath loves Portland. She has outwardly said that she likes playing there. So she isn’t looking to hop ship and head on back to PSG anytime soon. In fact, she is helping to create the future for the Thorns in an even bigger way through her involvement in their Development Academy. Because of this, she is invaluable to the Thorns organization not just this year, but for many years to come. And in turn, they should treat her as such.
I’m not saying that Tobin Heath is the best player on the Portland Thorns currently. She’s far from it, in fact. But she just may be the most important player that the organization has. She could be the spark needed to ignite Portland’s offense, she could help pull off a pretty big upset in the NWSL, and she can form the future of the organization, as well as be their constant throughout her career there. Essentially, Tobin Heath is Portland’s Girl Friday. She can do it all. And that may be what they expect out of her in the next few weeks.