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Tobin Heath looks to give Thorns what they need

When it was announced that midfielder Tobin Heath would be training with the Portland Thorns FC for the first time this season, you could almost hear the collective groan from the other seven National Women’s Soccer League clubs. The sentiment was undoubtedly something along the lines of, “Do they really need more help?!”

On paper, no side in the NWSL is more stacked than the Thorns, who have national team strikers Alex Morgan (U.S.), Christine Sinclair (Canada), defender Rachel Buehler (U.S.) and goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc. Now Heath, a fixture in the midfield for the U.S. national team, has been added to the roster.

Heath’s arrival comes at an opportune time for the Thorns. Portland (8-4-2, 26 points) has lost two consecutive matches for the first time this season and has slipped out of first place, trailing Sky Blue FC (9-3-3, 30 points).

During her first training session with the Thorns on Tuesday, Heath noticed how focused the team was on getting back on track.

“The team has a good vibe,” Heath says. “It’s extremely professional. You can tell everybody is super motivated and trying to fix the things they need to work on.”

Heath was allocated to the Thorns before the season. She was unable to join the squad until now, though, as she was playing for French side PSG. The 5-5, 24-year-old says that her time with PSG helped make her a more well-rounded player.

“My time at PSG was fantastic,” Heath says. “I got an opportunity to adapt to another culture and another style of play. I got a lot of games, a lot of training, and got confidence in myself outside the U.S. system of play. Coming back and playing with the national team, I saw some cool things in my game that I really was enjoying. Hopefully I can bring that to the Thorns.”

While in France, Heath kept casual tabs on the Thorns.

“I followed (the Thorns) similarly to any fan,” Heath says. “I wasn’t in this environment where I knew what was going on behind the scenes, but I caught up on all the highlights of the games and looked at the score lines after all the games. I’ve been tracking them along the way and seeing what they’ve been up to.”

During national team camp earlier this year, Heath got some inside information from Morgan and Buehler about the new Portland club.

“Everyone talks about their teams, and a number of the players would inform me of what’s going on,” Heath says. “But you really don’t get a good sense of that until you’re in it and playing. That will be a quick learning curve here.”

After she finished the season with PSG, Heath took a few weeks off to recover. She says that will serve her well in finishing the remainder of the NWSL season strong.

“Fortunately for me, I have a pretty good fitness base,” Heath says. “I don’t think it’s going to take me a lot to get back to my normal game shape. I didn’t take too much time off, but my body needed a rest so I could come into this season 100 percent healthy and ready to go and make sure I can finish this season strong.

“The first few practices and even the first game, I’ll be getting my legs back and trying to figure out certain aspects of this team and my physical capabilities. But from there on out, I expect to be 100 percent during the season.”

Heath grew up in Morrison, N.J., and played collegiately at North Carolina. She has the laidback attitude and the cadence of speech of a Surfer Girl (she has surfed often), or maybe a Skater Girl (she was known to skateboard around campus at UNC). Her speech is littered with Surfer/Skater Girl expressions like “For reeeeal?”.

On the field, though, Heath is anything but laidback. She helped the Tar Heels win three National Championships. At 20, she was the youngest player on the U.S. 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medal team. Her career hit a bump during the 2011 FIFA World Cup, when she infamously had a penalty kick blocked in the championship match against Japan. She quickly overcame that disappointment, registering three assists in six matches and helping the U.S. win gold in the 2012 London Olympics.

How quickly Heath is inserted into the Thorns' starting lineup is to be determined as she continues to gain fitness and adjusts to her teammates.

“It depends on Coach Cindy (Parlow Cone) and what she expects from me and what this team needs at this point,” Heath says. “I want to play, I’m a player. Any way I can help, I want to be on the field as soon as possible, but I want to make sure I’m contributing in the right way when I’m out there.”

Heath is familiar with many of the players on the Thorns.

“The familiarity helps,” she says. “Most of these players, I’ve played with or played against. That’s going to make it an easy transition. The talent on this team is very deep, and there are many options.”

Heath is known as one of the most technically gifted players on the ball in women’s soccer. But, she is open-minded to the ways that Parlow Cone may choose to use her.

“Hopefully, I can contribute in a few different ways,” Heath says. “I need to get a feel for the players and the position I’m going to be playing and seeing what’s needed. I know what my strengths are, but it’s a matter of figuring out where they line up with other players on the field and what this team needs.”

After spending the last several months hearing about how passionate the Jeld-Wen Field faithful are for the Thorns, Heath is looking forward to getting on the field and experiencing it.

“I’ve heard great things about the crowd,” Heath says. “I’m really looking forward to hearing that support and finally feeling that type of family and community here in Portland. I’ve never been a part of something that I hear is really special right here.”

If she is called to play Sunday at home against the Western New York Flash, she will be more than happy to lace up her boots and make the Thorns an even greater favorite to contend for a championship this season.

“I would love (to play on Sunday),” she says. “I just want to make sure it’s the right thing for the team.”