PORTLAND, Ore. – It was time for Lindsey Horan to say good-bye to her mom.
It felt too soon.
For the first time in her life, the 18-year-old would be on her own, living in one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities and surrounded by over two million people.
The Golden, Colo. native had never felt more alone.
Horan had arrived in Paris, France after signing her first professional soccer contract in the winter of 2012 with European women's soccer powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain.
She didn't understand the language. She didn't know the culture. She didn't even know any of her new teammates.
“Coming into that as an 18-year-old was really hard,” Horan says. “I was like the baby in the team, so it was pretty difficult for me. I think it was after three months that I actually started feeling comfortable [on the field] and outside, so it was hard at the beginning.”
Horan, though, was no quitter. She wanted desperately to make things work in France.
Before long, she had made friends with teammates Kosovare Asslani and Annike Krahn and adapted to life in the big city. But the biggest change came when U.S. international and Thorns FC midfielder Tobin Heath arrived in Paris, a fellow American who could understand what it was like to be so far from home.
“Tobin was huge for me out there when she first came [to PSG] and she made me feel more comfortable,” Horan says. “Getting the experience to play with her—she was one of my favorite players growing up watching on TV and I just love her style of play and learning from that—was really cool for me.”
Growing up in suburban Colorado, Horan had always dreamed of becoming an international soccer star. When she was as young as 10, she told her parents that one day she would play professionally overseas.
To do that, though, Horan first had to become a soccer player good enough to warrant that kind of international recognition. The hard work necessary was daunting. Horan could dream big, but she needed an external push to make her dream reality.
In her early teens, Horan's head coach at club soccer powerhouse Rush Soccer, Tim Schulz, found just the right words to motivate a player whom he felt was capable of so much more than standing out among other girls her age. Schulz laid down an ultimatum.
“Look, you're not even in the top 10 in the team right now,” Horan remembers Schulz telling her. “You need to work a lot harder if you're going to be starting and playing for us.”
It was Schulz who encouraged Horan to watch and study players like Lionel Messi and it was also Schulz who first encouraged the young Horan to forego college and go pro, an option that Horan didn't even know was available to her.
“Once I heard of that idea [of going pro] I was like, ‘That's what I want to do, that's my goal,’” Horan says. “I don't think my parents were too fond of it at the beginning, but that's just always what I wanted. Once I heard him say it I was like, ‘Wow, I could really do that.’”
It wasn't long before Horan got her first taste of a professional soccer environment. When she was 17, Horan trialed with French club Olympique Lyon. After only two weeks there, Horan was offered her first pro contract.
While Horan was tempted to sign, both she and her parents felt that she ought to at least finish her high school education first.
When PSG came calling the following year, Horan—who by then had finished high school and had already committed to the University of North Carolina—jumped on the opportunity. Her parents, especially her dad, preferred that she earn her college degree, but they both respected their daughter's dream to live and play overseas.
“I literally cannot thank them enough,” Horan says of her parents. “I don't think a lot of parents would let their son or daughter do that and them letting me be free to make that decision on my own—I think that was the coolest thing.”
In her first year with PSG, Horan worried that she had made a mistake. She could only sit at home and watch as the U-20 Women's National Team won the 2012 U-20 World Cup while she rehabbed from offseason surgery. Moreover, UNC—the school she had once committed to play for—won a national championship in what would have been her freshman season.
“That was hard for me seeing all that,” she admits now.
But Horan's fortunes changed quickly.
In her four years in France, Horan scored 46 goals in 58 appearances for the Paris club. Her name became something of a byword among women's soccer fans for a new generation of technical and adventurous American soccer players.
(USA Today Sports Images)
Now Horan has returned to the U.S. excited to prove that her game translates on these shores and solidify her place in Portland as well as within the U.S. Women's National Team.
“Just coming back from PSG, I want to do my thing and do my best for this team and give whatever I can to help us win the league,” she says.
While Horan says that she's beginning to settle into the more laid back Rose City lifestyle, she still occasionally wishes she could go for a jaunt along the Seine or take a stroll down the Champs-Élysées.
“You take it for granted when you're there,” she says of living among so much history in Paris. “But it's really a cool thing.”
Watch Horan along with her Thorns FC teammates Tobin Heath, Megan Klingenberg, Allie Long and Emily Sonnett as they join the USWNT this week for a pair of friendlies against Colombia on April 6 in Hartford (4pm PT, FS1) and April 10 in Philadelphia (10am PT, ESPN).