She’d been set up, and she never even knew it. Nothing she could have done would have stopped it. On the day she was accepting her National Women’s Soccer League Most Valuable Player award, forces within her two favorite clubs were conspiring against her. Colorado Rush was making a video to amplify her honor. Portland Thorns FC would make sure she saw it. And Lindsey Horan, on the day she accepted her most prestigious individual award, would cry in front of everyone.
She made it through the ceremony fine. More than fine. The appearance of Thorns FC head coach Mark Parsons’ “Park Marsons” character helped keep the press conference’s mood jovial. But when she went outside Providence Park’s KeyBank Club to do internal media, she was ambushed. The team’s internal writer sprung the video.
“I told you not to make me cry,” she said, having just watched the one person whose praise meant most – her long-time coach from Colorado Rush, Tim Schulz – share his pride in the honor.
That moment came to mind again on Tuesday, just over a half-hour into the Thorns FC midfielder’s World Cup debut. With the United States already up 2-0 on Thailand, Horan pounced on a loose ball in the middle of the penalty box, leaning back to lift her first-time shot high into the Thai goal. The tally was the third of 13 the U.S. would score today, but for Horan, the goal carried much more significance on a personal level. You never forget your first World Cup goal.
A striker in her youth, Horan’s moved far beyond judging her game by goals alone. Nothing said that more than where she was asked to play against Thailand. Normally deployed as an eight (central midfielder) for club, she was pushed even deeper for country, with the predicted tactics of an overmatched opponent allowing head coach Jill Ellis to move her best long passer deeper in the formation. Registas don’t usually find their way into the goals column, but for Horan, it wasn’t a problem.
She added an assist in the second half, but perhaps even more than her goal, it was her celebration that stood out. Turning immediately to run back upfield, she found the open arms of a waiting Megan Rapinoe, with Tobin Heath, Kelley O’Hara and Samantha Mewis the next to crowd around. When the huddle broke and Horan turned to the crowd, the face she wore as she kissed her hands and waved to the stands was the same as that day outside the KeyBank Club. She knew this was a major moment. She didn’t want to break down.
Image: USA Today Sports Images
A quick tug at her shirt to wipe her face pulled her back into the moment, and with four steps toward the center line, Horan was back to normal. But there was no denying that, for an instant, the 25-year-old allowed herself to be somewhere that transcended Tuesday’s game. She allowed herself to be back on the first plane to Paris, or in that new bedroom, alone, in the days after her mother had returned home. She allowed herself, in the flood of emotions and thoughts, to be back in those years where she was fighting for her national team spot. She allowed herself to be back in Golden.
We wrote about it this morning when we tried to capture part of Horan’s story, though nothing we said could match what, today, we saw after that goal. Horan’s journey has not only been distinct and daring, taking her down a path no other elite American women’s soccer prospect has walked, but the last half of it has played out with blinds pulled. Now, when she shares a moment with us, we know the context, and can feel the rewards. When firsts like today’s arrive, we know how much they mean to her.
I’m not sure if Horan actually cried today in Reims, but she deserved to, just as she deserved her moment last September at the sight of her old coach. She’s come too far and worked too hard for us, even in the middle of a 13-0 game, to not stop and take note.
As of two hours ago, Horan can tell anybody she not only made a World Cup but scored in her first start. Even if she elects not to, it wouldn’t be so bad if Schulz, her family, her teammates and the rest kept amplifying her results.