Portland Thorns fans have not seen Tobin Heath in action this season.
But Heath's presence will be a factor for the Thorns in the future.
Last week, the National Women's Soccer League club announced Heath will play a role in its new youth development academy.
Not that Heath is ready to hang it up as a player. Despite the lingering back strain that has sidelined her this season, Heath is in her prime. She turned 29 on Monday and remains one of the world's most creative players with the ball at her feet.
"First and foremost, my main priority at this point in my career is being the best player I can be," she said, "but my ambition is to change the culture of football in this country for the better, and that starts with our youth."
Portland is the epicenter of that, and given the buzz around the Thorns — a crowd of 18,637 watched Portland beat Boston 2-0 last Saturday — it is easy to understand why a New Jersey native such as Heath can see her future here.
Heath will be Thorns FC Assistant Youth Technical Director. She'll work with the coaches for the three Thorns FC Development Academy teams. Forming this fall, the Thorns will field teams in the under 14/15, under 16/17 and under 18/19 age divisions in the new U.S. Soccer Girls Development Academy.
Meanwhile, her Thorns teammates are starting to look like a force again in the NWSL. Portland is 3-1-3, and the win over Boston was the fourth shutout for the Thorns and goalkeeper Adrianna Franch. Amadine Henry scored her first NWSL goal and was involved in both goals as the Thorns scored twice in the first five minutes.
The speed of Hayley Raso, who has filled in for Heath on the wing, was a consistent bother for Boston.
Thorns coach Mark Parsons says if Raso continues to play with that much energy and effort, Portland will become a major bother for opponents when it reaches full strength.
"It's going to be hard on teams, because in a couple of weeks, it's going to be three or four running around like Raso at 100 miles per hour causing problems, and they're not going to be able to (foul) everyone" to slow the attack, Parsons says.
After a trip to New Jersey on Saturday to face Sky Blue FC, the Thorns will get a week off from NWSL play.
Thorns Allie Long, Lindsey Horan and Meghan Klingenberg will join the U.S. for exhibition games in Sweden on June 8 and in Norway on June 11.
The Thorns' next home match is June 17 against Sky Blue.