When Manchester United announced that Tobin Heath would be sidelined for 10-12 weeks with an ankle injury sustained in training, a significant blow was dealt to both the Reds and the U.S. Women’s National Team.
With the forward now rendered out for the next three months of the FAWSL season and the SheBelieves Cup, replicating Heath’s impact will prove a daunting task for both teams. But what exactly makes Heath an irreplaceable asset, and how will her loss be felt around the league?
As early as her college days, Tobin Heath was a standout player. Committing to the University of North Carolina in her junior year of high school, the up-and-coming star would go on to leave a lasting mark on the college soccer world. In her freshman year alone, she made 23 appearances for the Tar Heels, scoring four goals and assisting nine. In her sophomore and junior year, she combined for ten goals and thirteen assists, before wrapping up her senior season with five goals and ten assists.
With Heath’s help, UNC won three NCAA Division I championships in 2006, 2008, and 2009, as well as four ACC titles. Throughout her four years in Chapel Hill, Heath played alongside several future USWNT teammates, including Allie Long, Ashlyn Harris, and Jessica McDonald. She was also named the first runner-up for the MAC Hermann Trophy, an award presented to college soccer’s top player.
Upon concluding her impressive college career, Heath was selected first overall in the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) draft by the Atlanta Beat. Unfortunately, Heath suffered an ankle injury in her third appearance with the team and missed the remainder of the season. She was later traded to Sky Blue FC, where she appeared in twelve matches for the team.
Upon the folding of the WPS, Heath spent time with the New York Fury and Paris Saint-Germain before finally landing with the Portland Thorns in 2013, where she quickly established herself as a franchise cornerstone.
In 70 appearances for the Thorns, Heath netted 13 goals and assisted another 21, all while leading Portland to two NWSL championships in 2013 and 2017 and an NWSL Shield in 2016. She also earned her fair share of individual awards, being named the NWSL Championship MVP in 2013 and recognized as a member of the NWSL Best XI in 2016, 2018, and 2019.
After Heath was left unprotected in the NWSL’s latest expansion draft, her rights were taken by Racing Louisville FC. Should she choose to leave Manchester United and return to the NWSL, she’ll be suiting up for the upstart franchise after a legendary stint with the Thorns. But though her NWSL achievements are impressive, they still pale in comparison to her accolades with the USWNT.
Louisville has selected Tobin Heath's Playing Rights in the 2020 @NWSL Expansion Draft.@TobinHeath has given so much to the Thorns since the beginning, and we will be forever thankful. ???? #BAONPDX pic.twitter.com/RW9uAxmpyd— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) November 13, 2020
Louisville has selected Tobin Heath's Playing Rights in the 2020 @NWSL Expansion Draft.@TobinHeath has given so much to the Thorns since the beginning, and we will be forever thankful. ???? #BAONPDX pic.twitter.com/RW9uAxmpyd
The 32-year-old has appeared in 169 matches for her country, in which she has scored 33 goals and logged 40 assists. Since making her debut with the USWNT in 2008, Heath has won two Olympic gold medals and two World Cup trophies, as well as two championship titles in the SheBelieves Cup. As a result of her efforts, she was named the US Soccer Female Athlete of the Year in 2016.
Needless to say, Tobin Heath has proven to be a valuable asset to any team fortunate enough to have her on their roster. This was especially evident when she joined Manchester United in September, her impact nearly instantaneous as she has notched four goals and two assists in only eight matches played.
???????????? pic.twitter.com/08VuOaKk1l— Tobin Heath (@TobinHeath) July 8, 2019
As one can imagine, the news of Tobin Heath’s ankle injury took the soccer world by storm, leaving many to wonder not only who would step up to fill the void in United’s offense, but whether Heath’s injury would cost the club a chance at competing for a title.
Hopefully, some of these fears can be laid to rest following United’s handling of Everton last weekend, with goals from Christen Press and Ella Toone securing the 2-0 victory.
United has relied on Heath’s quick thinking on and off the ball, as well as her ability to execute passes that lead to scoring opportunities, a skill she has only sharpened over the years. In eight appearances with the Red Devils, Heath boasts a 72.7% passing completion rate overall, completing 173 of 238 attempted passes.
Despite her ability to set up her teammates, it’s Heath shot which remains her most potent weapon. This year alone, she’s scored multiple jaw-dropping goals in a United uniform, some from beyond the eighteen.
OH MY @TobinHeath ???? pic.twitter.com/foCtDAJ7Jv— Just Women’s Sports (@justwsports) December 20, 2020
OH MY @TobinHeath ???? pic.twitter.com/foCtDAJ7Jv
MY WORD TOBIN HEATH ????????The @uswnt star scores a DAZZLING goal. pic.twitter.com/C0bQekko1D— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) November 14, 2020
MY WORD TOBIN HEATH ????????The @uswnt star scores a DAZZLING goal. pic.twitter.com/C0bQekko1D
It is likely that fellow United teammates Jess Sigsworth, Lauren James, Leah Galton, and Christen Press will shoulder the responsibility of accounting for Heath’s absence up top. Likewise, Press, Lynn Williams, Megan Rapinoe, and Carli Lloyd will be expected to take on a similar task during the SheBelieves Cup. Though the USWNT is full of elite talent, there is no player quite like Tobin Heath, and the pressure is on for Vlatko Adonovski as he searches for a placeholder.
The domino effect of Heath’s injury certainly doesn’t end with the USWNT. In order for Manchester United to remain competitive in the FAWSL title race, Casey Stoney will also need someone to rise to the occasion… and fast. With a long road to recovery ahead, Heath is not expected to return to the pitch until April at the earliest. And though Manchester United has held onto their winning ways for now, they were recently leapfrogged by Chelsea for the top-spot in the league.
As the regular season progresses, Heath’s absence has the potential to drop United even further. But if they can at least keep pace with the other top FAWSL squads, Heath’s return could power the team on a closing sprint for the title.