It's been six weeks since the beginning of the NWSL season and goals for the Portland Thorns have been few and far between. While the Thorns have gotten off to slow starts before, it is very hard to predict that the defending shield winners would have this hard of a time finding the back of the net.
In six weeks, the Thorns have scored seven goals which puts them at seventh in the league in the goal-scoring category. Of those seven goals, only 3 have come during the run of play; 3 have come on penalty kicks, and 1 came on an own-goal.
On opening day, the Thorns looked really sharp and seemed to be in mid-season form as they defeated the Orlando Pride 2-0. That game could have easily been 4-0 as Allie Long scored two goals in a span of 15 minutes that were both called offsides.
After struggling to find goals over the past few weeks, it is easy to begin to wonder what is wrong with the "powerhouse of the NWSL". With the defense keeping the Thorns in games, you will have to look towards the star-studded midfield to begin to analyze the problem.
The Thorns have 4 world-class midfielders, but only three have played so far this season. Lindsey Horan, Amadine Henry, and Allie Long don't seem to be on the same page yet this season, but many believe that the key to unlocking the midfield is U.S national team star, Tobin Heath.
Last season Tobin Heath notched ten assists which led the league and helped set her teammates up in a variety of scoring positions. Through six weeks, the Thorns have only three assists. While it's easier to notice a high-scoring forward, such as Nadia Nadim or Christine Sinclair, Tobin Heath did much of the dirty work to continuously put the Thorns in scoring position.
While each midfielder can hold their own throughout the course of a game (such as Lindsey Horan against Boston), teams win when all the midfielders can play together, and the cog to get it all going could very well be the return of Tobin Heath.
While it's very easy to blame the lack of goals this year on the absence of Tobin Heath, part of the problem could be the Thorns ability to finish in the final third. The Thorns excel at getting the ball from the defending third towards Sinclair or Nadim up in the front, but for some reason the Thorns can't get that final touch and shot.
You can see that the Thorns can get into the attacking third because of their ability to draw penalties. The Thorns have shot three penalties (2nd most in the NWSL), all calmly finished by Nadia Nadim. There's a reason that the Thorns are awarded penalties and it is their abilities to at least slip passes into the box.
Even with their ability to get the ball to the box, the Thorns find themselves in last place when it comes to both shots taken and shots on goal. They have 38 shots with only 20 of them being shot on goal. The Thorns have also taken 22 corner kicks which is dead last in the league. With the Thorns creating such few opportunities they will have to score on nearly every one to stay near the top of the table.
In the game against Kansas City two weeks ago, the Thorns had many opportunities to get a goal, but got stymied in the end by a weak shot or even a simple misplacement. Long pulled off a perfect spin move to give her a clean shot that she just couldn't put enough heat on and Sinclair narrowly missed the east post after the keeper committed. Chances like these should be finished and once they do then the Thorns will find themselves winning many more games.
While the Thorns may not be a dynamic scoring offense just yet, they still find themselves in 5th place in the NWSL and a single win away from being in a tie for first place with the North Carolina Courage. With one of the best defenses in the league and a solid set of attackers, the return of Tobin Heath should result in the Thorns hitting their stride. Once that group of midfielders forms complete chemistry with one another, the Thorns will once again strike fear into the hearts of their opponents both at home and on the road.