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Americans Abroad

Rapinoe, Heath perfect fits for French league

Tobin Heath

Tobin Heath (right) will play for PSG this spring. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

National Women’s Soccer League preseason begins March 11, but March 2 in France is a top the table showdown between Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain. It’s already an enticing match between France’s two best teams this season, but it also offers a major storyline for U.S. fans: The two teams are now home to two of the best U.S. players who temporarily plying their trade in France.

Heath just signed with PSG for the remainder of the Feminine Division 1 season, while Rapinoe in December signed with Lyon until the end of the season. The 18-year-old U.S. striker Lindsey Horan also plays for PSG. She signed a six-figure deal with the team in July, foregoing her college eligibility and the chance to play with current NCAA champion North Carolina.

It’s a long shot that Rapinoe and Heath will be available for the match with the U.S. kicking off the Algarve Cup play in Portugal just four days later (but for the love matchups, Tom Sermanni, please let them stay for this game). Even if they don’t get to face each other in the last meeting of the season between the two teams, just going to play in France is a major moment in each players’ career.

Rapinoe scored a goal in her first game with Lyon on Saturday in a friendly vs. FC Shanghai (video here). Lyon won 5-0, but interestingly, Rapinoe played left back, according to the team report.

Sure, it was in the absence of one of the world’s best left backs, Sonia Bompastor, but the fact that she played there at all is noteworthy. The idea of the U.S. women’s national team shifting wing midfielders to outside back is one that has been previously explored, although Rapinoe’s name wasn’t one that immediately came to mind.

What’s important is that playing abroad — and for arguably the best club team in the world — even for a short stint will help progress U.S. players and expose them to different (read: more technical and individualistic) styles of play than they’ll find in the States. And Rapinoe and Heath are the two leading players who most fit that creative style of play.

Playing in the NWSL will be good for year-round competition, but a player like Heath in particular should have the freedom and encouragement to do as she wishes with the ball in France and not fear major repercussions. Let her nutmeg three-straight players if she wants.

We may not actually get to see Rapinoe and Heath play each other on March 2 (unless we’re talking about U.S. training in Portugal), but it’s an exciting thing to have two innovative players involved with teams who can nurture those skills. This is mostly a hunch, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see another player or two jump into a short-term deal overseas.

Heath and Rapinoe are due back to play in the NWSL (for Portland and Seattle, respectively) come June, but who knows, maybe they will find themselves back in France come September.

“I will stay here (at PSG) for the remainder of the season and maybe if I have a good time I will come back,” Heath says in the interview below.

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