"Surreal:" NWSL MVP Award the latest moment of vindication for Thorns FC's Lindsey Horan

PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s moments after she’s received the award, one she learned about the day before. The media session is over, where every question Lindsey Horan could possibly face about her 2018 National Women’s Soccer League Most Valuable Player honor has been asked, answered, and streamed live to the world.

Outside Providence Park’s KeyBank Club, her gaze turns to a phone, immediately emoting at the face of a mentor.

“Oh, Tim!” she says, tearing up, seeing a video posted by Colorado Rush to their Twitter account. Tim Schultz, president of the Rush and one of the most influential people in Horan’s soccer life, had just congratulated his prize pupil on winning the NWSL’s biggest individual honor.

“Hey Lindsay Horan, it’s Tim Schultz, your favorite coach in the world,” the video begins, congratulating Rush’s star on her honor. “I’m very proud of you.”

“Tim was such a huge part of my career growing up and my youth career and everything that I’ve accomplished, to this point,” Horan said, having taken a minute to collect herself. “I give him so much credit. He’s almost like a father to me in the football world. It means so much to think about all the stuff that.”

It’s also a reminder of how far Horan has come. Only 24 years old, Horan has already lived multiple soccer lives, from Colorado to Paris, from France to Portland. Her decisions have been bold – forgoing an opportunity to play at the University of North Carolina to, after high school, join Paris Saint-German – and at times, they’ve fostered doubts. There is a reason why most prospects don’t make the same move.

On an individual level, Friday’s award ceremony was a payoff. It was recognition that she is one of the best players in the world. It was vindication for all the tough choices she’s made since her days in Colorado, and it’s validation for the decisions she made going forward.

“It’s kind of surreal, right now, to sit here and look back and think, ‘Wow, it was all worth it,’” she said, standing above the Providence Park field that’s helped vault her star. “We all know [playing in Europe is] not for everyone, but the sacrifices I’ve made – going over to France; not knowing if it is really going to work out – I’m so thankful for that experience …

“It’s moments like this that I look back and I’m so happy that I made that sacrifice.”

It was as much as Horan was willing to say about herself after a 2018 which saw her score 13 goals from central midfield. The vote marked the first time in NWSL history that the MVP went to a player who didn’t lead the league in goals, but for Horan, the timing of the announcement felt more important.

“It’s kind of hard for me to celebrate it, right now, because the most important thing is tomorrow, the Championship game,” she said. “I will take that over everything else.

“It is such an honor, don’t get me wrong. To be amongst Sam Kerr, Pinoe (Megan Rapinoe), Lynn (Williams), McCall (Zerboni) is such an honor in itself.”

An honor and a reward. Three years ago, Horan elected to leap back to the United States, joining Thorns FC for what’s proving to be the peak of her career; or, at least the start of it. Since, she’s been a part of an NWSL Shield winner (2016), a league champion (2017) and another squad with a chance to claim Portland’s third star.

Friday, though, was all about her, even if she didn’t want it to be about herself. One day before a crack at another title, Horan was recognized as what she’s become, award or not: the most valuable player in the NWSL.