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Tobin Heath: As her chapter in Portland closes, a new adventure begins

Tobin Heath has become synonymous with an adventurous, free-spirited vibe on the pitch, so much so that Tuesdays have been rebranded Tobin Tuesday. A day where soccer fans come together to celebrate one of the most skillful players to have ever stepped on the pitch - and that skill stems from the enjoyment she takes in playing the game.

SOCCER: AUG 11 NWSL - NC Courage at Portland Thorns FC

“One of my professors once said, ‘once you actually buy a home or have a home your adventure leaves’ and that is kind of sad,” said Tobin Heath in a video series released by U.S. Soccer prior to the 2015 World Cup.

Tobin Heath was a bit of a soccer journeywoman before arriving in Portland. She was born in Morristown, NJ and grew up in Basking Ridge, NJ. Heath has been enjoying the game of soccer since she started playing at the age of four. She played at Ridge High School for three years. She committed to play at perennial powerhouse North Carolina at the beginning of her junior year of high school. During Heath’s senior year she didn’t even compete in a match. Instead, she trained with the boy’s team.

At the University of North Carolina, the number two prospect of the class of 2006 thrived. She made 93 appearances and scored 19 goals. She also helped her team go on to win the 2006, 2008, and 2009 NCAA National Championships.

In 2010, she was drafted with the first overall pick of the WPS Draft by the expansion team, the Atlanta Beat. She seriously injured her ankle and was traded to Sky Blue FC that December.

The WPS folded and Heath joined WPSL Elite League on the New York Fury. But she did not spend much time in New York. She embarked on her biggest journey yet: Signing with Paris Saint Germain in the Division 1 Feminine. She spent six months in the French Capital and scored five goals before returning to the U.S. and Portland Thorns F.C. in 2013.

Heath was one of the players allocated to Portland Thorns as part of the NWSL Player Allocation. Heath didn’t know it yet, but her constant traveling from team to team would come to a close as Portland, Oregon became her home.

“Portland is super special to me,” Heath said with her signature big grin, in the 2019 ‘One Team. One Nation. 23 Stories’ series. “It’s the first place as an adult I’ve been able to call home. Somehow I’ve ended up there and I feel really blessed to be there. I feel really blessed to be there, like, it’s a city for people that have a special craft and really take it [seriously] and they love sharing it, but like on a more intimate level.”

Washington Spirit v Portland Thorns FC

One thing is for sure: If Portland is a place for people who take their craft seriously, Heath ended up in the right place. There is something uniquely Portland about Heath’s style of play. You can see the enjoyment she takes in playing the game. She is a player who loves to take players on with style and skill, but it isn’t just to show off: It’s part of her craft. It’s the thing that makes her unique and special. But she is also a serial winner, one who wins with style and swagger, something the Portland Thorns have embraced.

And how was the culture of winning with swagger established? Well, it can’t be written off as one thing or another. Plenty has gone into making Portland one of the most successful clubs in NWSL, like proper investment from the club and its owner, good management, and a host of the world’s best players. But it also needed a bit of Tobin magic to make them the first champions in NWSL history.

The Thorns’ 2013 semifinal match against FC Kansas City was an instant classic. FC Kansas City went up 2-0 within 25 minutes. Heath kickstarted the comeback, scoring in the 33rd minute. But she had to exit the match in the 75th minute with the match tied at 2-2. Portland’s Allie Long went on to score in extra time to book the Thorns’ ticket to the first NWSL Final.

Heath had to be subbed off because of a foot injury in the semifinal. It was unclear whether she would be fit to play in the final. The announcers said Heath hadn’t really been training the entire week leading up to the final and only rode the bike to stay fit. Her coach, Cindy Parlow Cone, joked that Tobin Heath didn’t need to train.

Regardless, Heath started the 2013 NWSL Final. The pitch was full of world class talent. Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, and a young Samantha Kerr all had opportunities to open the scoring for the Western New York Flash. The Flash had most of the ball, but the Thorns were dangerous on the counter. Heath roamed around the pitch in the number ten position trying to start counter-attacks. Christine Sinclair had the most dangerous scoring opportunities for the Thorns, but it was Tobin Heath who would write her name in NWSL history with one of the best goals in a final you will ever see.

In the 38th minute, Heath received the ball on the touchline and Amy Barczuk had to hack Heath down from behind in an attempt to try and get the ball from Heath’s feet. It was a bad tackle and Heath was visibly irate.

The Thorns took the free-kick and immediately won another free-kick about 30 yards out from the goal. Heath set the ball down. Sinclair and Marian Dougherty stood over the ball on either side of Heath. Heath readjusted the ball, spoke to her teammates, then focused in on the ball and hiked up her shorts.

The whistle blew. Heath’s run-up started slow but with every step she sped up. As she neared the ball she swung her leg back and launched it forward with force. The ball looked like it was fired from a cannon and that cannon was Heath’s right foot. The ball entered the net with so much power that it rebounded and rolled out past the 18-yard box.

Heath was immediately mobbed by her teammates. She squeezed one of her teammates tightly as she closed her eyes, looked toward the sky, and let out a scream that looked like a combination of relief, determination, and jubilation.

Sinclair added a second goal late to secure the Portland Thorns’ first-ever title. But it may not have been possible without Heath’s sorcery.

As her career progressed Thorns fans almost became accustomed to the magic Tobin Heath could produce and Heath fell in love with the city and its fans.

“I don’t know if Portland made me love the game any more,” Heath said. “I don’t know if that’s possible. I think it made me appreciate the game even more and it gave me opportunities that I never thought I would have, so I think, in that way, it’s almost like I’m just thankful for the city and the opportunity to play there. But in terms of loving football, I’m just happy I’m in a place that has the kind of love and passion for the game.”

The Portland Thorns continued to thrive in the NWSL and Heath helped lead that charge. They went on to win the NWSL Shield in 2016 and the next year they added another NWSL Cup to their trophy cabinets. Of course, Heath had another big part to play, recording the game-winning assist against Orlando in the semifinals.

“[Portland] gave me this footballing perspective I never thought I could, which is, you know, we show up to this, this incredible stadium and in front of just passionate fans that are devoted,” said Heath. “And you get to just express yourself and in the beautiful way that you want to and to be able to do that for people and to, you know… we just use this word inspire. Like, I want to inspire as a football player and that’s the place I get to do it.”

Tobin Heath has inspired. She has inspired in Portland and she has inspired on the international stage with the same drip she always does. Heath is one of only three players to have won the 2016 Shield and 2013 and 2017 NWSL Championship with the Thorns. She was also named to the NWSL Best XI in 2016, 2018, and 2019. Internationally, she has been part of the USWNT that won four Algarve Cups, two Four Nations Tournaments, two She Believes Cups, one Tournament of Nations, two Olympic gold medals, and back-to-back World Cups.

Washington Spirit v Portland Thorns FC

Heath has firmly established herself as a Portland Thorns and USWNT legend. But on November 12, 2020, after seven years in Portland, Heath’s NWSL playing rights were selected by Racing Louisville FC in the 2020 Expansion Draft. Tobin Heath is leaving home.

“I feel like it’s a family, you know,” Heath said. “I’ve been there for such a long time that, you know, I feel like in a lot of ways, you know, I’ve obviously grown up a lot, but these people have grown up with me so it’s super special.”

This story began with Tobin Heath saying, “One of my professors once said, ‘once you actually buy a home or have a home your adventure leaves’ and that is kind of sad.”

Heath is an adventurous person and an adventurous soccer player. It is a tribute to how special Portland is that Heath called it home for such a long time. But it was inevitable that this would come to an end eventually. That’s just how Tobin Heath works.

She continued that quote saying, “But I hope I still have that kind of adventure in my life and that kind of wanting to explore more, experience more, meet new people, be in different cultures, be in situations that challenge you, and I think that’s the best way you can grow in any way.”

It is time for Tobin Heath to continue her growth and for her to revel in a new adventure.