One of the most skillful players on the United States national team roster, Tobin Heath is playing for one reason: retribution.
The last time the New Jersey native was on this stage – competing with the national team at the Women’s World Cup – her shot, uncharacteristically, did not find the back of the net and the United States walked away with a second-place finish. That shot, and that moment, has haunted Heath ever since and now she’s determined to make sure history does not repeat itself.
Now, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, and former No. 1 overall pick in the Women’s Professional Soccer League, is more determined than ever to lift the U.S. to international glory.
Here’s what you need to know about the 27-year-old midfielder and her quick footed approach:
1. Her Penalty Shot Against Japan in the 2011 World Cup Final Was Blocked
It’s a moment that has haunted Heath since it happened.
In a still-controversial move, Heath was substituted into the championship game of the 2011 Women’s World Cup late in the match, replacing Megan Rapinoe, who had been nothing short of dominant during the tournament. It also made Heath the only available option when the United States and Japan went to penalty kicks to decide a World Cup champion.
Heath’s shot was blocked. The United States lost. And the moment stayed with the midfielder long after the final whistle, although she has attempted to put the shot behind her. She discussed it with FIFA earlier this year:
For me, 2011 was just a heartbreak. “The whole motivation now is for that not to happen again and to win a World Cup. For every player in the group, they’re believing that [Canada 2015] is our World Cup. This is our World Cup to win and that’s how we’re preparing.
2. She Made Her National Team Debut in 2008 & Has Won Two Olympic Gold Medals
Heath made her first U.S. senior team appearance on January 18, 2008 against Finland and immediately made her presence known – she nutmegged a Finnish player on her first touch. She was the youngest player on the national team squad, then 20, when the U.S. won Olympic gold that summer and made three appearances off the bench.
Heath was named the U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year in 2009 but was unable to play in the following season after recovering from a major ankle injury that required surgery. Her best statistical year with the U.S. came in 2012, playing in 26 matches with four goals and seven assists. She also played in all six games at the 2012 Olympics and once again led the team to a gold medal.
3. Heath Played College Soccer at UNC & Was Drafted No. 1 Overall in 2010
Heath officially suited up in Tar Heel blue in 2006, making her collegiate debut in November after competing with the U.S. U20 National Team at the World Championships in Russia.
A crafty player even in college, able to put the ball through needle-thin lanes, Heath helped lead UNC to three national championships in 2006, 2008 and 2009. She played in 21 games during her senior season, finishing first on the team in assists and was even featured in the program-produced documentary “Winning Isn’t Everything.”
Those numbers led to Heath’s selection as the No. 1 overall pick by the Atlanta Beat in the 2010 Women’s Professional Soccer draft. She now plays for Portland Thorns FC in the recently-established National Women’s Soccer League.
4. She Grew Up in a Christian Home & Is Vocal About Her Faith
Throughout the course of her soccer-playing career, heath has not been shy about discussing her faith and its impact on her life. Heath grew up in a Christian home, the third of four children. She has two older sisters, Perry and Katie and a younger brother, Jeffrey.
During her time at UNC, Heath was an active participant in Athletes for Action and Champions for Christ and her devotion to her faith has not wavered now that she has found herself competing on the international circuit.
Heath discussed her faith with Belief Net:
I can’t even imagine going through life without my relationship with Jesus. So much of it is me relying on Him and me needing Him, not just in those crazy circumstances but in the day-to-day activities. During that time at the World Cup, it was a rollercoaster ride, but it was neat to just see His hand on that. It’s more than just winning or losing. There are so many relationships that go deeper than that. He has a plan in it all. You have to trust that.
Although Heath’s relationship with religion began while she was growing up in New Jersey, she has said that she did not truly realize her religious identity until college. She took that time, her first chance to experience “the real world,” to immerse herself in religion and gain a greater understanding of the faith.
5. Her Playing Style Is Incredibly Quick & Aggressive
Heath’s approach on the field is precise and quick. In other words, don’t blink or she’ll sprint right by you and, for good measure, may just kick the ball between your legs.
Long-time United States teammate Abby Wambach likened Heath’s talents to those of Barcelona great Lionel Messi. Wambach discussed Heath’s speed with SoccerWire:
She’s just so crafty, so good with the ball at her feet. She has treally stepped up her game. With North Carolina she used to be role playing — now she’s leading. She just creates things. The way she plays commands so much attention.