PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Less than a year ago, Tobin Heath lamented that being injured was the “worst thing in the whole entire world.”
Now healthy, the midfielder for the Portland Thorns and the U.S. national team looks like she’s having the time of her life.
“I feel like it’s been nice for me to be out on the field for a while now,” she said. “I always try to get better and better and improve my game. I never feel like I’ve reached it. I’m also in a great place to find my best form here in Portland. I’m supported by amazing people, so I get the freedom to be able to grow and improve as a player because of the people around me.”
Heath and the Thorns host a National Women’s Soccer League semifinal match against the Seattle Reign on Saturday. Portland went 12-6-6 this season to capture second place in the nine-team league, behind the North Carolina Courage.
The other semifinal, between the Courage and the Chicago Red Stars, was originally scheduled for Sunday in Cary, North Carolina, but because of Hurricane Florence it was moved to Tuesday night at Portland’s Providence Park. The championship game is set for Sept. 22 in Portland.
Heath spent the better part of last year dealing with injuries, and in January she had ankle surgery. The timing of the procedure was crucial because the national team needed a healthy Heath for World Cup qualifying this fall.
She came back in late April and has since regained her form as one of the top players in the world. She ranks third on the Thorns with seven goals but leads her teammates with seven assists.
“Sometimes I zone out watching what she’s doing on the field and I have to get myself back into it,” said Lindsey Horan, Heath’s teammate on both the national team and the Thorns.
Heath has also had an impact on the national team so far this year as the United States prepares for World Cup qualifying in October and the chance to defend its title next year in France.
Known for her footwork and dribbling skills, Heath was the national team’s Player of the Year and the NWSL’s MVP in 2016.
She had a goal and two assists in the U.S. team’s last game, a 4-0 exhibition victory over Chile in San Jose, California, earlier this month.
Her play drew the praise of former teammate Heather O’Reilly.
Now 30, Heath made her debut with the senior national team in 2008. She’s a three-time Olympian, earning gold medals with the team in 2008 and 2012. If the United States makes the field for the 2019 World Cup in France, it will be her third.
The match against Chile was her 138th appearance with the national team. She has 21 career goals and 33 assists. Since working her way back from injury, she has three goals and four assists as well as four straight starts.
Heath has been with her club team, the Thorns, since the NWSL’s first season in 2013. Portland won the league championship in the league’s inaugural year, then again last season.
She’d like to add another.
“I always say we’re a championship team, so we’re built for these types of moments,” she said. “The season has been interesting with all its ebbs and flows and different periods we went through together. But the team is strong and we’re collected. With that, I think there’s anything we can deal with.”