ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Tobin Heath didn’t train all week after having her right foot stomped on in last week’s semifinal.
Still, she insisted she’d be ready to play in Saturday’s National Women’s Soccer League Championship game.
And when game time came at Sahlen’s Stadium, she stepped right into the starting lineup for the Thorns. Forty minutes later she hit a knuckling free kick from 34 yards out for the game-winner in Portland Thorns FC’s 2-0 win over the Western New York Flash.
“I knew I’d have limited opportunities and as soon as I saw the free kick in that spot, I knew I wanted it. I was pretty confident when I stepped up,” Heath said.
Limited opportunity describes her season with the Thorns, to an extent. It didn’t start until July 14 after her return from French club Paris Saint-Germain, where she’ll return to immediately on Sunday.
Her presence helped calm and solidify a Thorns midfield that largely struggled through the first half of the season, even leading Alex Morgan to say in June that at times she “felt alone up top.”
But Heath was a catalyst in bringing together a disjointed Thorns side for the stretch-run of a season that varied greatly from the script many wrote for a flagship franchise expected to runaway with the title. Instead they finished third on a tiebreaker, going on the road to Kansas City and Rochester, N.Y. to win the title.
“When some type of adversity happens, our team comes together, even when more,” Heath said. “That’s just kind of been the end of our season, how it’s been. It’s given us hope and belief and I think you saw all that until the very end.”
Heath never revealed the diagnosis of her right foot injury, but said after Saturday’s game that the foot was “not even close to 80 percent.”
Saturday’s brutally physical – which saw five players carded, including Thorns defender Kathryn Williamson seeing two yellow cards in eight minutes for an ejection – wasn’t exactly conducive to Heath’s technical style. She may not have been the best Thorns player on the field, but one stellar moment was enough.
And her teammates had no doubt in her, either. Could anyone have imagined Heath’s hurt right foot hitting a free kick like that?
“I would have believed (it),” said Tina Ellertson – who joined the Thorns on roster freeze day on July 31. “She has an awesome right foot. She’s an amazing player.”
On Saturday, Heath’s free kick – along with Christine Sinclair’s stoppage time goal to ice the game – lifted Portland, who got contributions from lesser known names like Mana Shim and Danielle Foxhoven throughout earlier stretches of the season.
“Different people stepping up at different moments every time. I’m just so proud of them coming together as a team and playing with such an amount of heart,” Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said.