It is indeed a hot one out there as a heat wave goes through the Pacific Northwest. But at Bellarmine High School, where OL Reign hold their training sessions, a Heath wave has just begun as recently signed winger Tobin Heath had her first training session with the club today.
Heath signed with OL Reign after the club acquired her NWSL playing rights in a trade with Racing Louisville, that will see the US international winger play the rest of the 2022 NWSL season here, with an option to stay on next year.
“Yeah, it was great; beautiful day here,” Heath said to media after Monday’s session. “It’s great to be with everyone. It’s always a bit overwhelming the first day. There’s a lot of people, a lot of new faces, but everybody was super welcoming. The session was chill. So, yeah, it was great.”
“We always knew that when Tobin came, we were gonna manage her a little bit and work her way back in because she hasn’t played for a while,” said OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey in assessing Heath’s first training. “But, you see her quality and class straight-away and I think, her experience, her ability, her understanding of what it takes [to win] in this league is going to be an unbelievable trait as well.”
Seeing Heath suit up in OL Reign training gear and train alongside once-rivals, now teammates in Jess Fishlock and Lauren Barnes might be surreal for a lot of fans, who watched them face off numerous times over the years in Cascadia rivalry matches.
“I loved playing against them. They’re great competitors, really good players. I like them as people too, but playing with them, obviously it’s fantastic. I don’t mind not playing against Jess [Fishlock] anymore, and Lu [Barnes] is class. I always say she’s the smoothest outside back in the league. So yeah, it’s really great to be on the pitch with these players, instead of against them,” said Heath.
When it was just a rumor that Heath might be joining the Reign, the club did not have any comment. Soon enough the official announcement came, though — Tobin Heath was joining OL Reign. Heath didn’t go into much detail on Monday as to how the move came about, just saying, “I knew I was going to come back to the NWSL and spoke with Laura, spoke with the players, and thought it would be a good fit for me this season.”
This won’t be the first time that Harvey and Heath have worked together. When Harvey was the head coach of the US U-20 women’s national team, she worked with Heath on her rehab, getting her fitness to where it needed to be so she could be a part of the USWNT squad at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, where she made six appearances and recorded one assist.
Heath was at Arsenal before joining OL Reign, and while it was something of a bucket list item for her to play at the club she had long been a fan of, it was cut short to a hamstring injury. When asked today about the status of her recovery from that injury, Heath said, “I feel great. Obviously gotta get back into shape and work back into playing, but that’s the exciting part of being back on the pitch.”
Another player from Arsenal is set to join OL Reign — midfielder Kim Little was announced back on May 29 to do a short-term loan spell, however there is still some final processing for her visa before she can actually enter the US and suit up with OL Reign. The team unfortunately had no news to share on that process today, merely noting that everything is in the hands of the U.S. State Department.
Eventually it will happen, and Heath is looking forward to the brief reunion with Little. “Kim’s awesome. She’s class, so that would be really great. That was a nice, unexpected thing for both of us. I really loved my time with her, so it’ll be a nice little spell together.”
Yesterday the annual Pride Parade took place in downtown Seattle. Harvey, OL Reign players and staff members participated in the parade, along with staff members from the Sounders FC. Sometimes the schedule hasn’t worked where OL Reign are in town to fully participate in Pride activities across the month of June, highlighted of course by the parade through downtown, so the club makes the most of it when they can. Head coach Laura Harvey spoke about the importance for the club and for herself as an out gay woman in participating in the parade, especially under the backdrop of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last week to strike down Roe vs. Wade, undoing 50 years of progress for women’s rights and health care.
“I think ever since I came [to the United States] I feel super lucky that I’ve been able to live authentically who I am. I think sometimes take that for granted because we live in such a state that’s welcoming and open to anyone and everybody. Yesterday was a special event. It always is but, I think even more so because of obviously what had happened last week. I think there was an extra vibe around it of people believing what they believe is right, and part of that is allowing people to be who they are, allowing people to make their own choices, and what they do with their lives and their bodies.”
This Friday, when OL Reign return to Lumen Field to host North Carolina Courage, will be the club’s Pride match. Harvey commented on the importance of the club always a Pride match.
“I think it’s huge. You know, I think that again, we take it for granted a little bit. Our environment is very inclusive. The club has always been very inclusive. We live in a place that’s very inclusive. I think we do sometimes take that for granted, but I think you know when you hear the stories of other people’s lives and how difficult it’s been for them, and even people within our locker room have that story, I think, you know, it makes it feel even more important and I hope everyone’s gonna come out and support it.”
Before OL Reign’s training session today, the club announced that forward Zsani Kaján had transferred to Italy’s ACF Fiorentina. Kaján was OL Reign’s first draft pick, selected 8th overall, in last December’s NWSL Draft, but had not made a regular-season appearance for the club. When asked about the move and specifically about it being a transfer rather than a loan, Harvey said, “we want Zsani to go and play and get games. The club [ACF Fiorentina] really wanted it to be more of a longer-term thing and I think it will set her up possibly to come back to the league. Europe’s a good place for her to develop. Being in America is where she really wanted to give it a shot, and she did great when she was here, but she just needed to play games.”