FourFourTwo USA's 50 Best American Women's Players of 2017: No. 9, Tobin Heath
Look, we get it: We didn’t even get past the headline on this one and you were mad. You’re likely either in the camp that No. 9 is way too low of a ranking for a player of Tobin Heath’s caliber, or you think we’ve totally overrated her based on what she previously did.
There’s no getting around that Heath’s 2017 body of work was difficult to judge. For those of you new to FFT, firstly, welcome. We compiled these rankings in 2016 as well, and Tobin Heath was our very obvious No. 1. Her 2016 was the culmination of a decade of promise coming good into her most consistent and impressive year of work yet.
And then 2017 happened.
Heath missed the majority of the year for the U.S. national team, and the NWSL’s Portland Thorns, due to a back injury. She played only 246 minutes for the Thorns and 212 minutes for the United States in 2017. You’re right: That isn’t a whole lot of time on the field.
But her return for Portland came just in time for the playoffs, and she stepped right back into a starting role as the Thorns claimed their second NWSL title. Remember that first title, the one punctuated by Heath's magical free kick?
So, yes, the fact that she hardly played in 2017 makes it difficult to figure out where to rank her among her peers, right here and right now. It’s the same struggle that we had this year in deciding how to rank Amy Rodriguez, toward whom we were probably relatively too harsh.
Heath as our No. 9 player of 2017 is actually more of a downgrade for injury than it might seem. She was far and away the best American player in 2016 (and among the world’s better players), and had that form carried on, in a year where no U.S. players truly stood out above the rest, she probably would have been again.
Heath remains a once-in-a-generation player for the United States, and U.S. soccer can only hope that her increased interest and involvement in youth development in Portland will bear fruit for the next generation. Her individual technical skill is like nothing we’ve seen before. She'll be 31 at the next World Cup and surely still an integral part of the team.
Yes, part of the decision we had to make is how to rate Heath in a year in which she was somewhat in inactive. But let’s get real: She’s one of the best American players there is, and she reminds us of that with every touch of the ball, even if those were limited in 2017.