Rapinoe, Heath perfect fits for French league

Jeff Kassouf January 24, 2013 14

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.

  • Nice article, let’s not forget that OL and PSG could meet again one more time in French Cup Final

    • Steglitz49

      Where would that be played? Neutral ground, I suppose. Marseille?

      • Laure Boulleau’s homeland : Clermont-Ferrand. Another reason why this next-gen Bompastor wants her PSG team to win the cup this season.

        • Steglitz49

          So, she is from the Auvergne. Dramatic landscape; excellent winter-sports; fine food (like all of France). We had a couple of holidays in St Bonnet-le-Froid. So, if PSG win, I have to find some bleu d’auvergne to celebrate with. What else?

          Please Commander, could you write us thumb-nail sketches of Ms Heath’s new colleagues and explain their nick-names. I help you get started. Asllani is the feisty Swedish lady from the landscape with the incomprehensible dialect.

  • Kernel Thai

    I have this image in my mind of Rapinoe and Heath pulling up to the site of the first match in Portugal in the 76 Renault. Pinoe driving. Tobin wearing her shades, lounging in the passenger seat with her legs hanging out the window. Possibly with Lindsey Horan passed out in the back seat.

    • vert2013

      Now if they arrive in Portugal in the typical fashion I’ll be disappointed.

    • Steglitz49

      Failing the Renault, maybe a 2CV?

  • Steglitz49

    Well written. I do not think we need to worry about the Americans not playing this match between the two club teams (the first encounter in Paris was won by Lyon on a dubious penalty). It does not take 4 days to travel from Lyon to the Algarve, except by donkey-cart I suppose. Even a 2CV should manage it in time.

    • Kernel Thai

      Unless the match was somehow placed in a FIFA window I wouldnt expect either American to be released simply to practice for Algavre. Besides, I would expect Sermanni to make any radical changes that theyd have to be there for.

      • Steglitz49

        As you say, Sermanni can be expected to value the opportunity to experiment without justifying not playing two well established players. It is a gift from above. Also, there is no need to cause needless friction, and Sermanni comes across as astute and diplomatic, not doctrinaire. I can’t see his epitaph being: “What profits it a man … but for the Algarve Cup, Tom?!”

  • I have to say that I’m getting somewhat tired of hearing about how “technical” and “possession oriented” European teams are. It makes it sound as if the US is full of ball-bashing, aggressive-minded louts. When the US plays other teams, we generally dominate play and possession, and we almost always win, so we must be doing something right. The US is, and will continue to be, on the cutting edge of soccer science, so let’s stop the Eurocentric attitude and give the US some credit.

    • I think the players themselves would admit the leagues are different over there. Every US player abroad I’ve heard report on it say even the way they practice, weight training or the lack of it, touches, at the top level down to the youth level is different. Nothing to be ashamed of. I’m sure there are elements both sides wish they could tap into. It’s more of a gradual growing together. Japan and France getting a touch more physical, Germany and the US getting more technical. Everyone has something to improve upon.

    • Steglitz49

      Your point is well taken. Ms Heath collected Olympic golds in 2008 and 2012, and a World Cup silver in 2011. France, where she will be playing, did not qualify for the 2008 Olympics and went home with pig iron in 2011 and 2012. The French lost the bronze match against a Sweden down to 10 ladies and to Canada by a free kick in the dying embers of the game.

      Oh, silly me. The European explanation for this USA success resided in the Swedish head coach, Pia Sundhage who was the person that brought Ms Heath on, as well as 3 other young players.

      The NT that really took the stage in that time-period was, of course, Japan, the reigning World Champions. The Nadeshiko play a technically sophisticated soccer with superb tactical and strategic reading of the game. No doubt, owed partly to being considerably smaller than their foreign opponents. The second half of France-Japan at the Olympics was as a dazzling display of football as will ever be seen.

      In short, had Ms Heath wanted to perfect those sides of her game a stint in Ms Miyama’s team would have been time well spent. Ms Heath should enjoy her time in Paris and if PSG were to offer her a contract, she should rejoin them after the first NWSL season, in the fall of this year

    • Sure the US playing a more physical game , relying on sharp counter attacks, based on a tireless defense and a strong and deadly presence inside the box should be considered as a proper soccer culture by itself

      It is the US soccer federation who want to change something that actually works though.

      Pia Sundhage, Tom Sermanni, Klinsmann (on the men side) hiring European coaches as a top priority for the US NT won’t help promoting US soccer culture.