PORTLAND, Ore. – It was just another thing that Tobin Heath has won, albeit possibly the least important.
On a day when all four United States World Cup winners returned to Providence Park, Adrianna Franch, Heath, Lindsey Horan and Emily Sonnett all did the local media rounds, answering questions ranging from their experiences at France 2019, the week’s celebration that followed, the fight for equality with the national team’s compensation, to their return to Portland Thorns FC.
It was Heath’s answer about the celebrations that drew the day’s biggest response.
“The celebration’s always fun,” she admitted. “You go from treating your body like a temple to throwing it out the window.”
Sonnett also alluded to the celebrations, as well as how they’d spread across social media. “Everyone’s seen that we’ve had a little bit of fun,” she conceded, with Horan also acknowledging, “you guys have probably seen what we’ve been doing the past two weeks, or so.”
Those two weeks took the quartet and their teammates from the World Cup in France to television sets in New York; from ticker tape parades to center stage at awards shows in LA; from a brief time to regroup in private to the resumption of their normal lives with the Thorns.
“It was a whirlwind,” Horan explained. “We fly back to New York (from France), go straight to Good Morning America the next day. Basically, have to get everything ready for the ESPYs. Next morning, have the parade, and over a million people there, which was unreal.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” she continued, “and everyone showed up for us, to celebrate us. It’s amazing that we have that kind of support. Truly incredible. And then we're just on a plane to the ESPYs. No sleep. Exhausted. But, worth it. We want to celebrate that with our team, with our fans and those who didn’t get to go to the World Cup.”
Part of that celebration will take place next Wednesday night, when the World Cup winners experience their first game at the new Providence Park. Before that, though, the foursome gets to experience another whirlwind, albeit a minor one: a few days training, a flight to Utah and, come Friday’s game against Royals FC (7pm PT, Yahoo! Sports), another small step toward their normal world.
“I think any exhaustion that we do feel is surpassed by the excitement to be back home,” Franch said shortly after offering up the runner-up for day’s funniest line, joking to the media, “You’re lucky I have a smile on my face, right now, because I feel like a zombie.”
“When I saw all (my teammates), it was home, you know?” she explained. “You’ve been on the road for two months, and that’s exhausting in itself, but to be back here, and to bring that home with us, it was a little bit of celebration and reunion.”
The “that” Franch and teammates are bringing back to Portland was also part of the day’s focus, with Heath admitting, “I don’t know, to be honest,” when asked about their momentum’s potential carry over. For Sonnett, however, her first experience being entrenched with the national team at a World Cup had obvious benefits for her NWSL world.
“Being able to play with the best in the world every single day, and that competitiveness that you have to bring every single day, I think using that and bringing that back into the NWSL environment is going to be helpful,” she said. “Hopefully that’s contagious, and everyone feeds off that.”
With the Thorns tied on points across the NWSL, the team is already in a good place. How much that positioning means, though, is debatable. With other teams getting their World Cup talent back, too, the league is about to enter an uncertain stretch, one where each contender will be expected to reestablish their competitive identity. Whoever does that first – and does that best – will emerge as the favorite come the postseason.
“The team has done so incredibly well while we were all gone,” Horan explained. “I’m so proud of them, and I’m so proud to watch them, see the results.”
Heath initially joked, “I think we can just go on vacation,” hinting the Thorns who’ve been here all season have been doing fine without their U.S. stars. Soon, she was striking a more serious note.
“No, I think we’re in a really great position,” she said. “Getting everybody back and firing on all cylinders, here, will be really exciting, especially with the stretch of home games. It will be very nice, playing at home.”
After Friday’s game in Utah, Portland will close the season with eight of their last 11 matches at Providence Park, with the longest remaining road trip seeing them return to Rio Tinto Stadium on Sept. 6. Although national team duty will take Heath and the other U.S. internationals away from Portland more often, the prospect of settling in more, spending less time living out of hotels, is part of their World Cup reward.
“Being home is a great feeling,” Heath admitted, having referenced “being on the road for 50-plus days, in numerous hotels, and just traveling in general.” In her first day back in Portland, Heath was full of quotes:
“I wish our first game back was here. Getting on a plane is going to be a little hard, but overall the feeling of being here, it feels so right.”