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News / Sports / Soccer

Heath plays starring role in NWSL

Thorn star is happy to be playing for Portland

By ANNE M. PETERSON, Associated Press
Published: April 14, 2017, 4:34pm

PORTLAND — While a few of the U.S. women’s national team players have opted to go overseas, midfielder Tobin Heath is happy to stay stateside with the Portland Thorns.

And who could blame her? The National Women’s Soccer League team is loaded with talent, including fellow national team players Allie Long, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Sonnett and Lindsey Horan, as well as France’s Amandine Henry and Canadian star Christine Sinclair. It’s almost like an All-Star team.

But Heath’s decision was based on more than just her club. She genuinely loves Portland.

“I love it here. I’ve played in great training environments all over the world in different leagues and I think it’s fantastic here,” she said. “This is where I want to be.”

The NWSL is about to embark on its fifth season. No other professional women’s soccer league in the United States has lasted as long.

The league has a different look this season, with the defending champion Western New York Flash now the Carolina Courage. And missing are three star U.S. national team players, at least for the start of the season.

Forward Alex Morgan is playing with the French club Lyon this season. She’s expected back with the Orlando Pride by June. Two-time reigning FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd is playing with Manchester City, while Crystal Dunn has joined Chelsea.

Canadian national team player Kadeisha Buchanan opted to play for Lyon rather than play in the NWSL following her career at West Virginia, while Mountaineers teammate Ashley Lawrence went to Paris Saint-Germain.

Heath herself played for PSG in 2012-13. She had five goals in 12 matches.

Heath has been with the senior national team since 2008. At 20, she was the youngest player on the team that won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. She also has a gold medal from the 2012 London Games.

She scored in the final when the United States won the 2015 World Cup over Japan in Canada.

She was allocated to the Thorns in 2013, the league’s opening season. National team players are distributed throughout the league, with U.S. Soccer paying their salaries.

Heath, however, will sit out the Thorns’ season-opener against the Pride on Saturday because of a back injury. Also likely to miss the match is Brazilian star Marta, who is still working out visa issues to come to the United States and play for the Pride.

Saturday marks opening day for the league with four games. Some other things to know about the league’s fifth season:

MORE MARTA: Known by just her first name as is the custom for Brazilian players, Marta was signed to a multiyear deal with the Pride earlier this month. The five-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year has played in Sweden in recent years, but she previously played in the United States from 2009-11 in the now-defunct WPS and helped the Western New York Flash to the league title in 2011.

HEY LOOK, WE’RE ON TV: The Lifetime channel will show an NWSL game each Saturday as part of a deal struck with A+E Networks, which bought a stake in league and became a sponsor.

The NWSL further announced Thursday that it had reached a multiyear contract with Verizon’s go90 to live stream all of its games for free on the go90 mobile app.

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MAKING A MOVE: The defending NWSL champion Western New York Flash was acquired by North Carolina FC and moved to a Raleigh suburb in the offseason. The team was renamed the North Carolina Courage, a nod to the Carolina Courage of the now-defunct Women’s United Soccer Association.

It marked the first time in league history that a team had been moved.

PARTNERSHIP: There are three NWSL teams that are aligned with Major League Soccer teams: The Thorns, Pride and Houston Dash. Portland is highlighting the partnership Saturday with a doubleheader. The Thorns’ match against the Pride will be played in the afternoon, followed by the Timbers’ match against Sporting KC.

The Timbers will wear their “Rose City” red jerseys in honor of the Thorns.

SUSPENSION: North Carolina head coach Paul Riley will serve out the second game of a two-match suspension Saturday when the Courage play the Washington Spirit. Riley was ejected last season during then-Western New York’s semifinal game against the Thorns for making physical contact with a game official. He had to watch the Flash’s championship victory from the stands for the first game of the suspension.