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USWNT Roundup

Heath leads Thorns to NWSL Championship

After a thrilling NWSL championship game, the rising United States woman's national team star will join several of her American teammates overseas. Maura Gladys sums up the season.
BY Maura Gladys Posted
September 03, 2013
1:50 PM
It is September 3, 2013, a little less than two years away from the 2015 Women’s World Cup. But, in the bigger picture of U.S. women’s soccer, today feels significant. Taking stock of the current moment in U.S. women’s soccer reveals some exciting milestones for the women’s game in the U.S. and its players overseas.

The NWSL championship match between the Western New York Flash and Portland Thorns featured several national team players and provided a tantalizing tilt. It was Western New York’s Carli Lloyd and Abby Wambach against Portland’s Tobin Heath and Alex Morgan. The veteran playmaker and star scorer against their heirs apparent. Throw in one of the national team’s best defenders in Rachel Buehler and the national team’s goalkeeper of the future in Adriana Franch, and you had colliding storylines and career paths everywhere.

The showdown did not disappoint. Lloyd and Wambach sent waves of attacks at Portland’s goal, just barely missing on several attempts, while Franch exuded a confidence uncommon for a rookie on such a big stage. But then in the 40th minute, Tobin Heath took a free kick and sent a rocket into the upper netting.

The goal was symbolic of several things. The foul that led to the play signaled the brutality and physicality of the match. The strike itself reflected the raw skill and performance that lies at the heart of this iteration of women’s domestic soccer. It was both telling and ironic that the most important goal of the season came from a player that spent less than two months in the league. Under all of that meaning was a beautiful kick. A scorching act of physics that pierced the back of the net with as much force and ferocity as Heath displayed in her celebration.

Wambach and Lloyd knocked on the door for most of the second half, but weren’t able to get past Portland’s defense. Christine Sinclair added the dagger in the 92nd minute to give the Thorns a 2-0 win, and the first ever NWSL title. The match ended the season on a high, hopeful note.

Heath, the MVP of the championship match, boarded a plane to Paris just hours after the Thorns’ victory to re-join Paris St-Germain. Heath is just one of several U.S. national team players that will be spending their fall overseas. Lindsay Horan is already at PSG and played in the French club’s first game of the season, a 2-0 win over Yzeure Allier while Megan Rapione will return to French giants Lyon for the 2013-14 season.

Four, soon to be five Americans are at Sweden’s Tyresö, a team that is slowly turning into a female version of Fulham circa 2007. Christen Press and Meghan Klingenberg have been with the outfit since last season, and Press currently leads the Swedish league with 16 goals. The Washington Spirit’s Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris recently joined up, and national team defender Whitney Engen will join the team after her current club, Liverpool, finishes its season.

The swell of American players in Europe is a positive. It’s reflected in Tom Sermanni’s roster for this week’s friendly against Mexico. Yael Averbuch of Göteborg FC was the only international player called up for national team duty. This is big. The fact that we can say, ‘Most of the European players aren’t coming in for this one,’ the way we say that about Tim Howard and (formerly) Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, is important. That those same players will be tuning in on Thursday for the Women’s Champions League draw is just as big. PSG, Tyreso, and Lyon, will all take part in this season’s Champions League, giving eight U.S. internationals the opportunity to become champions of Europe.

We’re past the pioneer stage of U.S. women playing in Europe. By establishing a strong domestic league capable of providing entertaining, quality soccer, and developing players that not only compete, but thrive overseas, the U.S. is creating a reach and depth for its game, and the game’s players that has never before been achieved.

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