Having fully immersed herself in the European experience, there have been many changes that the New Jersey native Tobin Heath has undertaken during what she describes as her “education” at Paris Saint-Germain – the hugely successful French club where she just completed a six-month stretch.
While there weren’t too many opportunities to chat with David Beckham, one of the stars of the men’s team, as they passed by in the corridors, the United States international did not shy away from tackling the language and cultural differences in her temporary home.
“I’ve grown to understand the culture, the people and the way of life (in France). It’s been a real adventure, very surprising at times, and I’ve learned enough French so that I don’t get myself into too much trouble,” laughs Heath.
Familiar faces (and accents) helped make the transition a whole lot easier as Colorado native Lindsey Horan was also playing for PSG, while fellow U.S. international Megan Rapinoe enjoyed a similar short-term stint at Lyon.
With the French season now finished, where PSG finished second in the league to qualify for the UEFA Women’s Champions League and reached the semi-finals of the French Cup, both Heath and Rapinoe are preparing to return to the US to dive straight into the new NWSL following stints with the U.S. Women’s National Team in June.
Having been allocated to the Portland Thorns and Seattle Reign respectively, the midfield duo will begin a new chapter in their careers this summer. And the close friends are amused at the thought of being pitted as rivals once they land in the Pacific Northwest.
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For Heath, that adventure comes after a whirlwind spell in Europe, where the 25-year-old scored two goals in seven appearances and the former University of North Carolina Tar Heel insists that she has developed into a better all-round player due to her time with one of Europe’s elite clubs.
“Moving to France has given me a whole new perspective on the game – it has opened my eyes to how the game can be played and given me fresh ideas on training, preparation and different styles,” explained Heath.
“It really has been a game-changing experience for me. I haven’t had a steady run of games in the last four years. I’ve been training a lot and playing for the national team, but it’s nice to have that experience of playing day in, day out – it’s something I’ve been lacking since my college days.
“The other thing about playing in Europe is that you realize just how big of a deal football is. Being able to watch the Champions League with so many foreign players involved and seeing how they develop, it gives you a better understanding of the game and the demands at the top level.”
Heath believes that she is a better all-rounded player due to her time in France and that is good news for Thorns supporters, who are eager to see her line out for Cindy Parlow Cone’s team, who have made a bright start to the inaugural NWSL season.
Having played with many of the Thorns players before and worked under Cone at UNC, the 67-times capped US midfielder will be amongst old friends once she lands in the Rose City – even if her roots are planted in the Garden State.
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“Of course, I’m an East Coast girl, but Portland is a great city and a real soccer city. I think it is very positive that the Thorns are part of the Timbers, who already have a fantastic foundation in place and that should help the Thorns take off,” she said.
“The Thorns obviously have a really good roster and when you have a good team on paper, it’s easy for people to make predictions. But I know they have been working hard as a team and that is the only way that they will be successful – if everyone is contributing as a team.”
The prospect of competing in the NWSL is one that Heath is looking forward to as she sees the structure as being a lot stronger than the now defunct WPS, where she was the No. 1 draft pick back in 2010 when selected by the Atlanta Beat.
“I’m really excited to play in the league, but also just to watch it grow. The desire to develop women’s soccer has always been there in the US, but this league now allows us to push the boundaries a little further,” said Heath.
“One of the really good things about the new league is that teams have been distributed talented players evenly, which means every game is going to be competitive and hopefully a few rivalries pop up. This season can set a precedent from the beginning of the league can do.
“There are bound to be some bumps on the road, but it’s a nice idea to finally have a league that is stable and I think this is the first time that the structure has been right for it. There are going to be certain expectations after what happened with previous leagues, but I’m excited about its potential.”
Now that she has packed up her belongings and bid farewell to her PSG family, Heath vows to keep her European experience alive by using her newfound skills and continuing to practice speaking French once she becomes a Thorn.
Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandThornsFC.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.