This is the first in series of features on the US Women’s National Team by Chuckie Maggio. First up…Tobin Heath.
On a U.S. women’s national soccer team that has gotten significantly younger since it won the 2015 World Cup, midfielder Tobin Heath is a veteran force going into the Rio Olympic Games.
Believe it or not, Heath is preparing for her third Olympics, with two gold medals already in her collection. The Basking Ridge, N.J. native was the youngest member of the 2008 team that defeated Brazil 1-0 in Beijing, at just 20 years old. One of three college players on the roster (the competition took place right before her senior year at North Carolina), appeared in three matches during the tournament.
Eight years and two Olympics later, the 28-year-old says the mindset hasn’t changed going into Rio.
“If I’m fortunate enough to make the roster,” the humble Heath said, “this will be my third Olympics, which is pretty crazy for me to think about. My mindset hasn’t changed in that I have always wanted to be the best player I can be and help my team win gold. The only difference is my maturity and overall influence on the team, which makes me excited to see what the Olympics will bring.”
It’s a good time to be Heath, who is playing at an elite level for both club and country. In the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), she plays for the Portland Thorns and was named the league’s Player of the Month in April. At press time, she leads the league in assists with five and has a goal as well.
The Thorns have allowed just four goals through their first seven games, the fewest in the NWSL. They trail the first-place Chicago Red Stars by just one point in the standings.
Heath’s play has put her in the early MVP conversation, and she credits her organization and city for the strong start.
“I think so much about my form is all about consistency,” she said. “I have a great training environment in Portland with the Thorns and I feel like I’m working to get better every day.”
Give Thanks To France
The United States can thank France for some of its star midfielder’s skill. When the NWSL’s predecessor, the Women’s Professional Soccer League (WPS), folded in 2012, the future of an American women’s professional league was murky. Many players went overseas while a new league was established, and Heath’s destination was Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in France. The French league goes from late August to the end of May, so for two years she played out the Division 1 Feminine season before returning to the U.S.
“The experience I had in France was tremendously valuable for me,” she said. “I experienced parts of the game that I would have never been able to if I had remained at home. I learned a different style. I exchanged ideas with players from all over the world. And I was able to train in a foreign environment that made me uncomfortable and allowed me to grow as a player.”
The thought of Heath being uncomfortable is a bit difficult to fathom for fans who have watched her dominate on the field and maintain a calm, level-headed persona off of it.
She has said that she enjoys surfing and being outside when she’s not playing soccer, but don’t let the “chill” temperament fool you: her competitive fire for 90 minutes is evident in the way she goes after the ball, whether it’s an Olympic final or a regular season NWSL match.
Sometimes her on-field emotion is costly, like on May 7 against Washington, when she was called for a push and spiked the ball in frustration, a sequence that resulted in two yellow cards and an ejection. But most of the time, that passion is an asset for the Thorns and the U.S.
“Since I started playing soccer I always felt like I put a lot of expectation on myself. I think this came natural for me as an athlete,” she said. “Throughout my career I’ve been blessed to have played on teams that have similar expectations that I have for myself. Therefore, naturally I feel like I’ve always had this pressure to be great but I don’t know any other way.
“It’s what I love- that feeling that you have to give your all, all the time.”
Since winning the World Cup last July, the national team is 11-1-2, the lone loss coming in a friendly against China on Dec. 16. From a reserve role in Beijing, to some starts in London, to being a regular starter in Rio, Heath knows what it takes to win the gold.
“I truly believe we are playing some of the best soccer I’ve ever been a part of with this team,” she said. “I have been a part of a lot of winning teams and it’s always the same; (you need a) lot of hard work and a little bit of luck.
“And it takes everyone playing their part, no matter how big or small it is. Everyone matters.”