FourFourTwo's USWNT Top 50: No. 1 – Tobin Heath
Tobin Heath’s arrival – her true, dominant, best-American-in-2016 arrival – really began in 2015.
A quick mental exercise: Who was the best U.S. player at the 2015 World Cup? Carli Lloyd is the obvious answer; Becky Sauerbrunn is likely the second answer. You might say Julie Johnston or Megan Rapinoe, and if you’re a real soccer nerd and like to argue, you might even come up with a case for Morgan Brian.
Tobin Heath likely isn’t on that list. But quietly, Heath’s game sharpened, and a maturity on and off the field took root. It led to 2016, which saw the now 28-year-old midfielder wear the armband during Christine Sinclair’s early absence for Portland Thorns FC and even in passing moments for the United States. She was no longer the exceptional young player who was too prone to drifting in and out of matches; she was an everyday general for club and country.
Heath has long been the most talented American player on the ball. She possess the type of skills that could give her a post-playing career in freestyle soccer, should she choose, but she is capable of replicating those tricks on a full-size field, and at actual match speed. She’ll go for the rainbow or the nutmeg; she’ll try to chip or lob a keeper; she can hit a free kick with venom (don’t forget that 2013 NWSL Championship, when she did it on a bum leg).
That has always been there, but in 2016, we saw the Tobin Heath we’ve all been waiting for. Cynically, there was waiting to be done in 2016: The wait for the eventual cooling off of what seemed like a hot streak. But it never happened.
USWNT ALL-TIME 25
Thorns coach Mark Parsons reminded everyone in May: “We’ve got Tobin f***ing Heath,” he said, in a quote we haven’t let go and won’t soon forget. We remember it so well some seven months later because Heath was the best American player in 2016.
The consistency was there. Every outing, her touch was on point, her runs had a purpose, her passes were sublime – and if all else failed, her effort level didn’t drop. She continued to wow us with the spectacular, from juggling over Orlando defenders to making Colombia defenders look like bright yellow training cones. Heath notched six goals and eight assists in 22 games for the U.S. (career highs) and one goal and a NWSL-record 10 (!) assists in 14 games for Portland.
Consistency remains the key word, and for Heath to vault herself into the conversation among the world’s best, as well as among the best in U.S. history, she’ll need to keep this up in the years to come. What we saw in 2016 was the culmination of nearly a decade of work at the senior level. What’s next for her in 2017? We look forward to finding out.