Heyman Pinpoints Matildas Return

The Canberra Times this week reported that Michelle Heyman is targeting a Matildas call-up. Impetus’ Kieran Yap outlines what the A-League Women’s all-time record scorer could add to Tony Gustavsson’s squad (2/10/22).

Above: Michelle Heyman lets fly for Canberra United against Brisbane Roar last season. The A-League Women legend is aiming at an international return. Photo: Canberra United.

The Canberra Times has reported that the A-League Women’s all-time leading scorer has targeted a return to The Matildas. Michelle Heyman’s international comeback could bring a new dimension to Australia’s attack.

The article, which can be read here (via a paywall) gives Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson another attacking option to ponder as the Matildas approach their remaining international friendlies ahead of the World Cup.

It is worth remembering that a national team squad is not a Team of the Week or Season. Of course, form is important, but it is a side that must function as a team, and sometimes that has little to do with a player’s statistics.

Michelle Heyman has produced impressive numbers over the past two seasons. 10 goals in 2020/21 and another nine in 2021/22 made her one of the best performing strikers in Australia. she was awarded the Julie Dolan medal at the end of her comeback season as recognition. But these statistics do not show her true potential value to the national side.

Heyman is a tactically different proposition to the other options in the current Matildas squad. She is dangerous on her left or right foot from anywhere within 25 yards, can play with her back to goal, and can drop deep to link up play or spread long passes to the wingers.

The Canberra star still possesses impressive pace and can score with power or a delicate chip over a keeper. The pace of international football is a significant step up from A-League level, but one of Heyman’s greatest assets is her vision and special awareness.

She knows where the spaces in a defence are and exploits them ruthlessly. Her unpredictability means that she often appears to score goals out of nothing. There is no “typical” Heyman goal in the same way you can describe what a Megan Rapinoe or Caitlin Foord strike would probably look like. She can adjust her technique to any split-second occurrence and has the confidence to try it.

Against stronger opposition, or in losing situations, Australia’s attack has looked isolated. The game plan seems to be to get the ball to positions that have the highest chance of scoring. The Matildas work the wings or attempt interplay to get behind the defence then try and square the ball in front of goal. 

When it works, it is magnificent. Emily Van Egmond’s late equaliser against New Zealand was a perfect example of this. Sam Kerr’s finish to a stunning team move against Brazil was another, and in the Asian Cup, they were able to do this repeatedly against Indonesia. Against Canada Mary Fowler’s goal was scored from an almost identical position.

However, it is good to have options. In the same way that Kyah Simon offers something different to Sam Kerr, Michelle Heyman has abilities that only Mary Fowler can replicate, with experience that nobody else can.  

In a desperate situation in a knockout game, bringing on the tall, fast and extremely mobile forward with 61 international caps not only changes the way Australia can attack, but changes the way the opposition have to defend.

Above: Michelle Heyman in action for the Matildas previously. Photo: Football Australia.

Suddenly, Sam Kerr would have a player who could flick on long passes into her path. Just as quickly, the opposition manager must find a defender who can stop Heyman turning and shooting in attack and track her into midfield.

Heyman is likely to have another strong season at Canberra United, but regardless of how many goals she scores, she is the type of player that can make a huge difference with very little opportunity.

Tony Gustavsson has so far elected to trust youth and has uncovered some gems and future stars. The performances of the Young Matildas and Under 23 side mean that there are players that look ready to step up if needed, but there is a readymade option in Heyman.

Although much of his tenure has focussed on giving youth and debutants opportunities, Gustavsson has also shown that he is prepared to turn to experience when necessary. He has trusted Katrina Gorry with a central role in the side, when the brilliant playmaker has been more peripheral over the previous two managers, or at least since 2015.

Gorry’s particular set of skills have filled an important role in the side. Michelle Heyman can do the same.

If the Matildas manager needs a player to exploit an organized defence, or a game changer off the bench. Heyman is a perfect fit.

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