Manchester United’s WSL title bid has taken a heavy blow after Tobin Heath was sidelined for 12 weeks with an ankle injury.
Heath became the greatest signing in Red Devils short history when she and USWNT teammate Christen Press arrived from Portland Thorns in September, and she was instrumental in United’s surprise title challenge this trimester.
The forward has scored four goals in seven appearances – including a scream to spark Manchester United’s derby return draw against rival City in November – to leave his side very present at the top of the league in their second season in as top flight outfit.
Losing a player of Heath’s quality – two-time World Cup winner and two-time Olympic champion with 169 appearances for the all-conquering USWNT – would be a blow to any side. But can United cope?
While Heath instantly came to life in the WSL, his fellow USWNT Press arrival took a little longer to find his feet. The disease disrupted the start of the striker’s life in England and as a result United have yet to see the best of her.
With United losing one of the best players in the world for up to three months, now is the time for their other world-class striker to stand up. The Red Devils have entered the title race despite Press has yet to start firing all cylinders. They might be scary when she unleashes her devastating best.
Press and Heath’s arrival in September threatened to push Leah Galton up the pecking order. The former Leeds winger was one of the Red Devils’ star performers in their debut season in the WSL, mostly carrying their main creative threat. Instead of being ousted by the USWNT additions, Casey Stoney has moved Galton to the left-back, such is his importance to the team.
United’s various offensive line injuries and illnesses over the past two months have seen Galton pushed back to the left wing, where she shone. The 26-year-old has scored five goals in her last five WSL appearances and won the Player of the Month award for December. It is a real quality to appeal to.
Lauren James is back in great shape after her impact in the first half of the season was disrupted by injury. One of the most exciting young players in the league, she once again showed just how capable she is of changing a game with a moment of magic during United’s loss to Chelsea. Like Heath, James is a player with a winning shine.
United have really started to develop their strength in depth this season; winger Kirsty Hanson came off the bench with a lot of effect against Manchester City, captain Katie Zelem found herself out of the starting XI following the fine form of Ella Toone, England international Lucy Staniforth did not yet found a starting spot and they have soared in the Champions League again despite the excellent Alessia Russo who has missed much of the season with injury.
The Red Devils have always been a very good team. During his two and a half years at the helm, Stoney assembled an exceptionally well-drilled unit without relying on a single player. While Heath’s absence is a big blow, Stoney is too smart to have built a squad solely dependent on the USWNT forward.