PORTLAND — The arrival of Tobin Heath did not instantly turn the Portland Thorns FC offense into a juggernaut. And Heath’s energetic and creative game wasn’t enough to earn the Thorns a win for the first time in a month.
But the play of the United States national team midfielder — who made her debut on Sunday as the Thorns and Western New York Flash played to a 1-1 draw in front of 13,021 at Jeld-Wen Field, helped Portland create the kind of scoring chances that figure to eventually produce goals.
“I don’t like to lose or tie, so that kind of was a bummer,” Heath said. “But I thought we did some good things out there, created a lot of chances.”
Portland has now played four games since it last won. But the Thorns’ record of eight wins, four losses and three draws remains the second best in the National Women’s Soccer League. Western New York is fourth in the eight-team league with a record of 6-4-6.
Abby Wambach, in her only Portland appearance this season, showed the finishing ability that made her the most prolific goal scorer in women’s international soccer to put the visitors ahead in the first half.
But with a chance to score a late-match penalty kick, Wambach couldn’t beat Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.
“It’s one of those situations where you read it and hope you’re right,” said LeBlanc, who dove to her left and tipped the penalty kick off the post. “I was fortunate to be right this time.”
Western New York was fortunate that goalkeeper Adrianna Franch was, in the words of Portland coach Cindy Parlow Cone, on fire. Franch made nine saves, including one-on-one plays to deny Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair in the first half, and a terrific tip save to turn away Heath’s header in the second half.
It wasn’t the type of goalkeeping Portland wanted to face. The Thorns entered Sunday’s match having not scored in almost 300 minutes.
The Thorns drought ended in the 38th minute of the first half when Meleana Shim drove a shot from the top of the penalty area just inside the right post.
“We had some good ball movement,” Shim said, describing a sequence that got the ball to Sinclair near the goal line on the left wing. “(Sinclair) played a great ball back to me. When you get a ball that great it’s an easy finish.”
The goal was timely not only because Portland had gone scoreless in its previous three matches, but because a minute earlier Wambach put the Flash ahead with a volley from six yards out. She beat defender Kat Williamson by a half-step and caught a cross from Samantha Kerr just right to curve it inside the far post.
“You just give her that half of a poke and she’ll get it on frame, and that’s what she did,” LeBlanc said.
The Portland goalkeeper — who finished with five saves — said the Portland defense did well against Wambach. In addition to battling Wambach alongside veteran Rachel Buehler, Williamson cleared away a goal-bound McCall Zerboni shot in the first half.
Heath said she was surprised to play the full match, but that she felt comfortable playing on Portland’s artificial turf. She played on each wing in the first half, then in the central attacking midfield spot for the second half.
Parlow Cone said having Heath makes Portland’s attack better.
“She’s one of the most tactical players, and also one of the most technical and creative players playing the game today, so of course she helps us a ton out there,” the coach said.
Portland finished with 20 shots, 10 of them on goal. The Thorns earned eight corner kicks, seven of them in the second half.
“Whatever the reason, it’s not going in for us right now,” Parlow Cone said. “We’ve just got to keep working at it. Can’t get frustrated, because we’re doing things right.”