Tobin Heath celebrates her goal, scored only 52 seconds after she entered the game (Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Vlatko Andonovski and his staff had it all planned out.

Tobin Heath would come on somewhere between the 70th and 75th minute of the U.S. women’s national team’s Send-Off Series game with Mexico in East Hartford, Conn.

What transpired after she got on the Pratt & Whitney Field at Rentschler wasn’t planned out at all Thursday night.

Only 52 seconds after replacing Megan Rapinoe and in her first touch in her first match since injuring her ankle in December, Heath drilled a 30-yard shot into the net to give the rain-drenched crowd another reason to cheer about in the 4-0 win.

“The goal was great,” Heath said. “I had a long time to think about what it would be like getting back on the field. You play the game a lot in your head while you’re not while you’re not doing it. So, it was one of those things that kind of slowed down. It was picture perfect. It was a great transition ball from Alex [Morgan] and I just took a little look and said I could do it.”

Added Andonovski, the head coach: “Not many players can do what she can come up with.”

It was a long road back for Heath, who admitted she didn’t think she would be in this position.

“It was huge,” she said. “I didn’t know if I get back to this place, and obviously took a lot of work and patience. Honestly, I have a lot of help. I have a lot of people to be thankful for that, that helped me along the way, but I just had to take every single day. I didn’t have much time. so I had to make the most of it. It was hard but I was really happy with that.”

Heath said many people, teammates, coaches and USWNT staff, among others, helped her return after injuring her ankle while with Manchester United. She admitted she had one discouraging moment “and then you just kind of get up and get on with it.”

“My mom actually came to Manchester as soon as she heard, which was a pretty big journey considering the circumstances going on in the world,” “Heath said. “And I’ll never forget that. And at the time, I obviously didn’t know I’d be sitting back here talking to you guys, so it was a it was a special moment that I got with her.”

Heath also worked out with U.S. Under-20 women’s national coach Laura Harvey in Los Angeles and teammate Christen Press.

“Laura was instrumental,” she said. “It was the first time, personally, I’d worked with her. Obviously had heard really great things about her but she was really great on the football side of the return. It’s always great to have professionals around you really pushing you. I couldn’t have done it without the people that were helping me.”

Andonovski never had any concerns about playing Heath on such a wet field.

“Not at all,” he said. “We have a medical staff on the bench, a high-performance staff. We knew before the game that Tobin’s going come in between the 70thj and 75th minutes. When we asked her go for a warm-up, we checked with the high performance staff and there’s no hesitation. There has been any concern about Tobin from the medical standpoint. There hasn’t been any concern for a long time. The only thing that she was missing and why she didn’t play more was because we give her in-game minutes gradually.”

Like a good forward, Heath, well, looked forward.

When she was asked about the specifics of her injury, the 32-year-old replied, “Honestly, I don’t really want to talk about the specifics, or even think about it anymore. I just kind of want to focus on the football going forward.”

In Heath’s case, forward is Monday’s final Send-Off Series game against Mexico and then the Tokyo Olympics later this month.