Jan 22, 2013, 6:52 PM EDT
If Megan Rapinoe’s blazing a new trail with her exploits in Lyon, it looks like one of her teammates will be right behind her. Attacking midfielder Tobin Heath appears to be following in her fresh footsteps, having signed a contract with emerging Division Feminine club Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.
Her six-month deal will mirror Rapinoe’s with Lyon, with both stars set to miss the start of the upcoming National Women’s Soccer League season.
Sources within the league confirmed the signing, news that originally leaked after U.S. Soccer posted a roster for the impending national team camp detailing Heath’s new affiliation. Her official team has since been corrected to reflect her place with Portland Thorns FC; however, the announcement still says the former University of North Carolina star’s time in Tom Sermanni’s first camp will be cut short by her commitments in Paris.
Sources within the NWSL have confirmed Heath’s contract will run until June. Rapinoe signed a similar deal with Lyon.
Heath was recently allocated to Thorns FC along with Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair in what most considered the league’s most favorable allocation; however, with Heath set to miss the beginning of the season, head coach Cindy Parlow Cone must now find somebody capable of making the connection to Morgan and Sinclair.
Sources also confirm the league was aware of Heath’s possible move at the time of allocation, a fact that could explain why the league was willing to add the midfielder to a talented Thorns roster.
Love of the game
Though Rapinoe and Heath are not the first U.S. players to see time in France (Hope Solo spent time with Lyon in 2005), it’s no coincidence they are the two most prominent members of the current national team to take advantage of new opportunities in Europe. Ali Krieger was already there (Germany), as were borderline national teamers Ashlyn Harris (Germany) and Meghan Klingenberg (Sweden), but Rapinoe and Heath are the first from this summer’s Olympic team to make this leap.
The commonality between the two is their love of the game. Both Rapinoe and Heath have a reputation for being insatiable soccer players, and while Heath’s health (during her WPS days) and national team commitments have left her with a playing record not dissimilar to other her age, Rapinoe had spent time in Australia in addition to a brief stint with the Seattle Sounders Women.
With the NWSL season still at least two-and-a-half months away (no official schedule’s been released), it’s not shocking that two players who can’t get enough of the game will spend their winter in France. That each will cash in on France’s escalating arms race make the moves financially and competitively attractive.
There are a series of national team players entering crucial points in their development. If players like Morgan, Lauren Cheney and Sydney Leroux don’t find opportunities to test themselves more consistently against top competition, they could risk a relative stagnation. At the rate at which the women’s international game is improving, it’s no longer good enough to stay home and develop through national team tours and W-League summers. It’s unclear the NWSL will solve this problem.
Teams like Germany and France see their players near-constantly playing against top competition. The Frauen-Bundesliga and Division Feminine are among the best leagues in the world, each competition placing its best talents in a quickly improving UEFA Champions League. With the margin for error for the U.S. Women’s National Team smaller than ever, it’s unclear whether its stars can afford to miss out on opportunities to play for clubs like Lyon, PSG or the various teams in Germany.
Heath is the player with the most to gain from time abroad. She’s the U.S.’s most technically gifted player, but because of injuries incurred after leaving North Carolina in 2010, she’s never played consistently at club-level. In addition, her role as a creative presence in midfield is the type that would be consistently tested against the tactics and talents of the European game. It’s more than just a striker trying to beat better defenders.
At a very important point in her development, opportunities like PSGs will only help Heath realize her potential: That of a game-defining playmaker on the international level. Other players have that potential but fall short, but with this move, Heath is giving herself the best chance to succeed.
Lyon has the most talented squad in women’s soccer, but getting into the U.S. market is key for them. Club president Jean-Michel Aulus admitted as much when Lyonnais announced Rapinoe’s capture, and with rumors that representatives have also reached out to Alex Morgan, it wouldn’t be a shock if Rapinoe’s capture is the tip of the iceberg for a team looking to raise an already high bar.
PSG’s Heath signing is the same. The Parisian club signed a six-figure deal last year for Colorado teenager Lindsey Horan — a declaration of the emerging club’s financial intent — but trying to track down Lyonnais’ juggernaut, high school prospects are not enough. Playing in the wake of Lyon, PSG needed more talent.
With the Heath signing, the Parisians have made another foray into the U.S. market, one which will help them secure the second place (Champions League) spot they currently hold in France.
And just as with Rapinoe, there’s always the possibility this deal leads to something more. The core of the U.S. Women’s National Team is committed to helping the NWSL launch, but there’s nothing to say players like Heath and Rapinoe won’t finish the NWSL season in August before signing up for another stint abroad. The experience and money are hard to turn down.
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