BEAVERTON, Ore. – Lindsey Horan’s first media availability of the 2019 National Women’s Soccer League preseason was what you would expect during a World Cup year: a healthy mix of Portland Thorns FC questions and focus on the U.S. Women's National Team's impending summer. But while conceding “the World Cup is the biggest thing in soccer” and the tournament is, for her, a “big picture” goal, the 2018 NWSL Most Valuable Player was also clear about her priorities as it concerns the club side of her world.
“Obviously, for the Thorns, I want to give as much as I can,” she said in the middle of Wednesday’s 10-minute session, a want she defined across a number of levels.
The first focused on what the team would be when she’s gone; or, likely gone for the World Cup, as Horan was careful to clarify. “That roster has not been named,” she said, “and I can’t sit here and say I’m going to be on that team, yet.” But given her place as a regular starter in the middle of United States head coach Jill Ellis’ formation, both Horan and the Thorns need to plan for her departure – plans in which Horan hopes to play an active part.
“Given that [the Thorns are] our club, we want to do everything to give our all for the games that we’re here,” she explained, referencing herself as well as her fellow internationals. “And when we’re not here, we want to make sure that everyone is on the same page, and that we can leave them with something, that we believe in them, that there are people who are going to step up in our place if we are gone.
“That’s super important. You need to have that, and you need to have the players who can come in and play those roles. It’s going to be exciting for a lot of these players that are going have to step up and play so many games. I’m excited for it.”
It 2019 plays out like 2015, the Thorns’ U.S. internationals could miss as much as two-and-a-half months of action, from a possible early-May recall for national team camp to their mid-July return, should the team’s games in France prove fruitful. From May 1 and July 14 (when the Thorns host the Orlando Pride at Providence Park), Portland has nine league games, with a roster carrying four Americans, three Australians, a Canadian and one Brazilian international destined to be hit hard.
“You have a lot of veterans here that are stepping up and showing these new players, practice players, young players the rules and the club and the culture, what our motives are,” Horan explained, about how Portland can offset that burden.
From her point of view, Horan doesn’t see herself as one of the team’s veterans, yet – a natural view given the presence of players like Christine Sinclair, Katherine Reynolds and Tobin Heath. But with seven years of professional experience on her resume, the 24-year-old forward/midfielder may be a veteran by accomplishment, if not age. It would be difficult for a new player to come into Thorns camp and not see Horan as one of the most experienced and accomplished players in the group.
“Weirdly, I don’t think of myself as a veteran, but I guess, I’ve been playing for a while,” she admitted. “I’ve said that, before, I want to take more of a leadership role, and I feel like I made more steps last season … I will be playing in the World Cup, (but) I’ll do everything I can to try and help these players that will be stepping up.”
Whether Horan can step up from her lofty 2018 level for the Thorns will be one of the bigger challenges of her season, not only because of her impending World Cup absence but because of the heights she achieved last season. A clear NWSL Most Valuable Player pick come season’s end, Horan enjoyed the best year of her professional career, with the form that won awards at league level helping her cement a foundational role in the USWNT's starting lineup.
To ask for more than that in 2019 may be too much, but Horan doesn’t turn 25 until September. She has last year’s experience to draw on, and as her three years in the NWSL can attest, each season has brought a new, more dangerous wrinkle to her game. Beyond the stats that are bound to be hit by her time in France, improvement may yet be possible.
Right now, though, the forward turned attacking midfielder, attacking midfielder turned box-to-box dynamo is trying to keep things simple.
“It’s kind of one step at a time, one thing at a time …,” she said, when asked about her mental process. “For the Thorns, I want to give as much as I can, as I said earlier, to help any of the players here that will be stepping into those roles with whomever’s gone. We still want to win this thing this next season. I think we can. I think we can with the players that we have.
“Given so many players being gone, I think we’re going to be perfectly fine. I have a lot of trust in our team.”