For some, it’s probably difficult to pick a favorite USWNT player, what with our overflow of world-elite talent all over the place, and especially at striker, where our backup’s backup’s backup would most likely start for any other national team in the world. For me, though, the answer’s pretty easy. It’s attacking midfielder Tobin Heath, because she more than anyone else has the talent, technique, agility, and audacity to do stuff like this:
The U.S. obliterated Colombia last night in a friendly by a score of 7-0, thanks to one four-goal deluge halfway through the first half—
—with a couple more (including one coming off Heath’s foot) thrown in for good measure in the second:
(Quite the bargain at $1,350, eh U.S. Soccer?)
For my money, though, the most impressive bit of skill and inventiveness wasn’t on feature during any of those goals (though to be fair the two reverse balls Carli Lloyd played to set up the first and third goals are plenty filthy in their own right); rather it was that run of Heath’s where she slid past one defender, beat another about four times while making her way to the byline, nutmegged a third, nipped the ball away right as a a fourth was about to take it from her, and snuck a pass under the arm of the goalkeeper in hopes of finding a teammate to smash it home. Only her compatriots were apparently as mesmerized as we were by the real-life training cone drill Heath had just pulled off, and so no one was able to turn it in.
It’s tempting to call every diminutive, sneaky attacker “[Insert Country]’s Messi,” and Heath certainly isn’t that. Messi is such an anomaly because he’s the best creative passer and the best dribbler and the best goalscorer in the world—maybe ever. Heath only (“only”) boasts the first two of those abilities at elite levels.
However, more than the specifics of what Messi does that has every nation clamoring over itself to find and anoint their own version of him is how he makes you feel when watching him. No matter where he is on the pitch, when Messi picks up the ball, you expect the impossible. You know he can do anything, and because you’ve seen him regularly pull off what you never could’ve imagined, you sit up in your seat a little, not knowing what will happen next yet confident that it will be something amazing.
Heath, more than any other USWNT player, evokes some of that with her game, the sense that the possibilities have expanded when the ball comes into her feet and the eager anticipation for whichever of the infinite number of end states she will select. And that’s why she’s my favorite.