Skip to content

Morgan faces Wambach, Heath makes her NWSL debut as Thorns, Flash draw

Jul 14, 2013, 10:59 PM EDT

Tobin Heath

PORTLAND, Ore. — When the NWSL schedule came out, it was one of the most anticipated games of the season: Portland-based Abby Wambach visiting JELD-WEN Field with her home town Western New York Flash to face the one team with Major League Soccer backing – Portland Thorns FC. With Portland’s typical standout crowd, the Wambach versus Alex Morgan matchup was sure to be one of the most interesting of the season.

And in front of a 13,201-person audience that was given reason to erupt when Canadian international Karina LeBlanc saved a late Wambach penalty kick, Portland and Western  New York played one of the most entertaining matches of the year, the 34-shot affair ending in a 1-1 draw.

Those who showed up to see Wambach’s first NWSL visit to Portland were rewarded in the 37th minute when the U.S. international reached her right leg around rookie defender Kathryn Williamson to put home a ball from winger Samantha Kerr. One minute later, Thorns midfielder Meleana Shim fired home from 19 yards, the last goal of a game that once promised to be a shootout.

But for all the Abby versus Alex anticipation the matchup once garnered, Sunday’s kickoff had become anticipated for an entirely different reason. After spending the first months of the season in France playing for Paris Saint-Germain, U.S. international Tobin Heath made her much-anticipated Portland debut, starting in midfield for Cindy Parlow Cone’s side.

“She helped us so much today,” Cone explained, her team showing some of the attacking spark fans expected at the beginning of the season. “[Heath’s] a world class player … She’s one of the most tactical players and also one of the most technical, creative players playing the game today.”

The impact was obvious, if ultimately inconsequential. Heath’s skill on the ball helped Portland play a possession game they’ve struggled to implement all season, while her ability to play anywhere across the width of the pitch allowed the Thorns to utilize wide areas that have been neglected throughout much of the season. Even in her physical presence, something for which she’s not especially known, Heath made an impact, her pure soccer instincts helping her win balls for the Thorns.

“Tobin has great mobility,” Cone said after the game, asked about Heath’s various positioning within Portland’s midfield. In the team’s 4-4-2 formation, she started on the left, switched to the right, and played the second half in the middle.

“She has such a great fitness base,” Cone said, “wherever she’s moving, we have other players who will fill in other positions.”

That great fitness Cone alluded to also played into the move centrally, according to Heath. As the central, attacking midfielder, Heath’s need to track back decreased, allowing her to see out a match despite some apparently rubbery legs.

“I think that was kind of the plan: to go 45 (minutes), see how I was feeling, switch me to attacking mid so I didn’t have to do as much up-and-down running,” Heath said after her NWSL debut. “I was a little surprised. My fitness base is pretty good, but taking a few weeks off and coming back , I was pretty happy, especially with the heat. Overall, I was happy to be able to go 90 [minutes].”

The game’s style also represented a transition for Heath, who spent the last six months in France’s Division Feminine. Whereas European soccer is characterized by a more tactical style, Saturday’s Portland-Western New York match embodied the characteristics regularly associated with the North American game.

“Obviously it’s very physical, athletic, fast pace, transitional type game,” Heath said, asked how the NWSL’s level of play compares to France’s. “I think you saw that today, especially with the heat. It gets pretty stretched out.”

That type of game helped leverage Heath’s strengths as well as revitalize Portland’s attack. Despite the presence of Morgan and Canadian icon Christine Sinclair, Portland’s only scored 19 goals in 15 games. Only two teams in the eight-team league have been less productive, yet with Heath in the team, Portland was able to generate 20 shots, including 10 on goal.

“[Cone] gives me a lot of freedom,” Heath said, describing her role. “I think she knows I’m a player that needs a little room to be creative and make something happen. But the midfielders that are around me are very good with the ball. I think it’s just a matter of getting that confidence and belief in one another in the midfield to play, because we really can play.”

That was evident on Sunday. Ultimately, Portland dropped points at home, but compared to the stretch that’d seen them shutout in three straight games, the performance against Western New York  was progress, portending well for Heath’s contributions throughout the rest of the season.

Latest Posts
  1. Manchester United, adidas unveil kits with “smashing” photos

    Jul 31, 2015, 9:52 PM EDT

    man-fb-mata_3331957

    The leaked images of United’s kit were the real McCoy, and the Red Devils white-cuffed kits are pretty sharp.

  2. Pep Guardiola on final year of contract: “Not completely convinced” he’s right for Bayern

    Jul 31, 2015, 8:14 PM EDT

    GUANGZHOU, CHINA - JULY 23: Pep Guardiola, coach of Bayern Munich FC looks on after losing the International Friendly Match of Volkswagen Cup between Bayern Munich FC and Guangzhou Evergrande at Tianhe Stadium on July 23, 2015 in Guangzhou, China.  (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Guardiola can erase a minor Bayern demon with his first Super Cup win on Saturday versus Wolfsburg.

  3. Fourth-tier NPSL, PDL to hold semifinals this weekend; PDL to hold final, too

    Jul 31, 2015, 7:08 PM EDT

    New York Cosmos B New York Cosmos B

    In the PDL, Seattle Sounders U-23, New York Red Bulls U-23, K-W United and Ocala Stampede are left, while the NPSL has New York Cosmos B, Chattanooga FC, Indiana Fire and CD Aguiluchos USA remaining.

  4. FA Community Shield preview: Will Arsenal or Chelsea claim the season’s first reward?

    Jul 31, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT

    Chelsea v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    Arsenal looks to win its second-straight Community Shield, something that only Manchester United has been able to do since 2000.

  5. Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Sunderland

    Jul 31, 2015, 6:03 PM EDT

    Sunderland

    Dick Advocaat is hoping familiarity will combine with a couple buys to help Sunderland avoid a relegation fight for the 1st time in a while.

  6. NASL commissioner continues to tout promotion/relegation in BBC feature

    Jul 31, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT

    NASL

    In a BBC feature, Bill Peterson makes it clear he thinks the desire for pro/rel is real.

  7. Report: Aron Johannsson wants MLS move, but clubs hesitant to meet salary demands

    Jul 31, 2015, 4:41 PM EDT

    <>during the 2015 CONCACAF  Gold Cup match between United States and Haiti at Gillette Stadium on July 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Getty Images

    Johannsson had already said he wants to play Stateside in “his prime”, but a Yahoo Sports report said his desires have obstacles.

  8. PHOTOS: Orlando City unveils designs for third-largest stadium in MLS

    Jul 31, 2015, 3:54 PM EDT

    Orlando Sentinel Orlando Sentinel

    The Lions will continue to play at the Citrus Bowl until the new venue is completed.

  9. Lambert revival? English striker moves to West Brom from Liverpool

    Jul 31, 2015, 3:16 PM EDT

    wba.co.uk wba.co.uk

    Is this the case of a 33-year-old who’s over the hill, or can he return to the form which saw him score double-digit goals and assists?

  10. Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Southampton

    Jul 31, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    southampton

    Will the Saints keep marching up the PL standings? Maybe a European campaign will derail their progress?

  11. Aston Villa sign Rudy Gestede, Jordan Veretout as Sherwood continues French revolution

    Jul 31, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT

    Wolverhampton Wanderers v Aston Villa - Pre Season Friendly Getty Images

    After signing nine new players this summer, is Sherwood taking a gamble?

  12. Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Stoke City

    Jul 31, 2015, 11:55 AM EDT

    Stoke City logo

    Can the Potters build on their best-ever PL finish last season? The top eight is a possibility for Hughes’ side.

  13. Jose Mourinho issues Chelsea injury update; believes Arsenal can win Premier League

    Jul 31, 2015, 10:59 AM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-COMMUNITY-CHELSEA-ARSENAL FBL-ENG-PR-COMMUNITY-CHELSEA-ARSENAL

    Blues boss compliments Gunners, gives update on injured duo ahead of Community Shield match.

  14. After 12-year absence, Southampton wholeheartedly embrace European return

    Jul 31, 2015, 9:47 AM EDT

    Southampton v Vitesse - UEFA Europa League: Third Qualifying Round 1st Leg Getty Images

    Soaking in the atmosphere on a special night at St Mary’s, as Saints’ Europa League campaign began.

  15. Chelsea’s John Terry calls out haters, says rivals jealous of his success

    Jul 31, 2015, 8:50 AM EDT

    150527-John-Terry Getty Images

    Terry: “Regardless of what people say, you can’t take away what I have won and done in the game.”

  16. Theo Walcott signs lucrative four-year contract at Arsenal; Cazorla extends

    Jul 31, 2015, 7:55 AM EDT

    Walcott Getty Images

    Gunners keep experienced duo around, as Walcott decides to stay at the Emirates.

  17. Where in the world is Angel Di Maria? Man United boss Louis van Gaal has no idea

    Jul 30, 2015, 9:27 PM EDT

    Louis van Gaal & Angel Di Maria, Manchester United FC Louis van Gaal & Angel Di Maria, Manchester United FC

    Louis van Gaal seems to have misplaced his club’s $90 million investment, purchased just 12 months ago.

  18. Anfield exit looming? Balotelli, Borini left out of squad for Liverpool’s final preseason games

    Jul 30, 2015, 8:10 PM EDT

    Mario Balotelli, Liverpool FC Mario Balotelli, Liverpool FC

    With three attacking signings already made this summer, Balotelli and Borini look destined to leave Liverpool before the transfer deadline.

Featured video

What can we expect from PL new boys?