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'This is who I was born to be' - Captain Horan on the USWNT

31 July 2023 Jessica Burtzos
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Lindsey Horan loves to talk about soccer, or football as she calls it. You can't blame her, really. She's spent a lot of time in Europe lately, so it's easy to understand why the two terms are interchangeable for her. Whatever you want to call it, though, Horan is ready to discuss it in any way, shape or form.

Want to talk tactics? Let her pull up a whiteboard or something to break things down. What about technique or style? Her eyes light up when asked about the differences between Europe and the United States and how her game has evolved through the influences of both. The NWSL, Champions League, Ligue 1, Women's World Cup... hell, a game on the moon. If there's a ball to be kicked and a topic to discuss, you can get Horan going on what she thinks about it and the deeper meaning of it all.

That, obviously, is one aspect of being a U.S. women's national team star: the soccer. As they head to the Women's World Cup as two-time defending champions, the USWNT is once again among the favorites. Horan, meanwhile, will serve as co-captain alongside Alex Morgan. Once just a contributor, Horan is now a leader, a mainstay, a star.

With that captaincy and that status, though, comes pressure, and not just on the field. Horan has found comfort between those lines since childhood but, for years, the USWNT has fought battles outside of it. And, for each group battle that the U.S. has fought together, each player that has represented that shirt has seemingly had their own personal fights, and Horan is no different.

"It was always a hard topic for me because I was always just that footballer that wanted the ball at my feet," she says ahead of the USWNT's opening game versus Vietnam in New Zealand. "That other stuff, I was like 'I'll leave it to the veterans and the older players to speak up for us'. In the beginning of my career, that's how it went, but the older I got, the more important those things were to me: making a name for myself but also inspiring the next generation.

"I never thought that was going to be my role, one where little girls and boys could look up to me. I thought it would always be football, but this is amazing."

Ahead of the World Cup, Horan sat down with GOAL to discuss the pressures of playing with the USWNT, why she'll never take those pressures for granted, the extreme highs and lows of life in Europe and, of course, and most importantly, football.


An emotional side to a familiar experience

You've probably seen the videos by now: the videos of players receiving "the call". There's nothing more wholesome, is there? In that moment, you see these players told the best news of their lives and, for virtually all of them, it's impossible to contain the emotions that come with that news.

Let's be honest, though: Horan knew that call was coming. She was a lock for this USWNT roster. She was named captain for a reason, because she's so damn important to this group, on and off the field. Even so, there's no containing that moment. Even with the certainty of past and present World Cups, Horan couldn't be prepared.

"I knew I would get emotional," she says. "I have that sensitive side to me, but it's also like, I think I embrace that because this is such an honor to be on this World Cup roster. I don't think any player that's here can take that for granted. Getting that call to let you know the roster, you're 23 of the best players in the U.S. going to represent your team at the biggest, highest stage possible for football.

"For me, when you sit there and you think about that in your head, like especially leading up to this phone call and everything, that's everything that I've worked for. It's everything that I've done my entire life and no matter what, no matter how many rosters I've been on or caps I have or championships or trophies or whatever, nothing will ever take away from that moment. You just cannot take that for granted and I think you will always see my emotions come out when something like that hits.

"I think that you will always see the human side of me with that and, as much as I would love to not cry on camera and have that all over social media, I think it does show a side of me that people may or may not know."

Horan, of course, has lived that moment before. She received that call from then-coach Jill Ellis back in 2019 and went on to be a key player for the U.S. on the road to a World Cup title that summer. As part of that roster, Horan sealed her own place in USWNT history as the team continued its dominance on the global stage.

This time around, though, it all feels different. In France four years ago, she felt like a newcomer being brought along for the ride. She was willing to defer to others, to fade a little bit into the background and let others lead the charge. This time, Horan knows that she's one of several player steering this team toward that ultimate goal. There's no mystery to it: Horan will be more important this time around.

"Last World Cup, maybe I didn't know my place or role as well," she says, "so there were a lot more nerves in me with just making the roster and then trying to still fit in and find my place in the team and also impact the team. I was a little bit younger.

"Obviously, I have a different role. I'm more of a leader this World Cup, an older player, so I kind of have to be that one that helps the ones with those nerves and I have a little bit more responsibility on my end, so it's exciting, but I'm sure those nerves will kick in at some point."


A born captain

The moment Becky Sauerbrunn confirmed she wasn't heading to the World Cup, the question emerged : who would captain the USWNT? Ultimately, that responsibility was handed to Horan and Morgan, two obvious choices, to their credit.

Morgan remains the face of this team, the star striker that the whole world knows heading into her fourth World Cup. It's Horan, though, that will serve as the primary captain when both are on the field. She'll have learned from past captains, no doubt, about what that role will look like and, to be fair, being captain of the USWNT isn't really like being captain anywhere else.

That's because the U.S. is a team so loaded with personalities. From Megan Rapinoe to Kelley O'Hara to Julie Ertz to Morgan, there are so many different types of players and leadership styles scattered throughout this roster. Because of that, Horan sees herself as one of many, but she does very much acknowledge that she is one of the players that will need to shoulder a bit more this summer.

"It's just knowing who I am because I think I am a natural leader," Horan says. "It's just about how it gets voiced and how it comes out because we do have so many very outspoken people on the team, real characters and role models, veterans, everything. Now that I am one of them, it's just about how I take that on.

"I think for me, not a lot changes because this is always who I have been. I do have more responsibility, especially with the new players, the younger players to just be there for them and to help them along on this ride, get the most out of them, get the best versions of themselves

"For me, I don't want to change a whole lot because this is who I was born to be. I've always wanted to lead this team and be that role model for players on this team as well, so I'll take that on and I'll take that responsibility. When everything starts on the field, or off the field, at this World Cup, it's going to be incredible."


The lone American in Europe

Horan is quick to say it: she has nothing against the NWSL. Even as the lone representative of European soccer in the USWNT squad, she's still pushing for the NWSL to thrive. She still loves Portland, the Portland Thorns and her old team-mates. She misses them all dearly.

But there's something that captivates her about the European game. She's been abroad twice, first for a four-year stint with Paris Saint-Germain and, most recently, for a loan spell with Lyon that was inevitably made permanent just before the World Cup. Her place in Europe made her World Cup preparations a bit difficult. As the rest of her team-mates have been playing games in the NWSL during her offseason, Horan has made sure to stay in shape with her own individual program.

She wouldn't trade her experience for the world, though, despite any issues it brings. Of course, there are challenges: living away from family and friends, playing in a foreign country away from the comforts of home. For Horan, though, it's about the football, and about the chance to play it at a level she believes is the highest possible.

"I get to play against the best players in the world every single day in training," she says of Lyon. "Not against anything and the league here, but I'm sorry, I don't get that here. You get that over there. They're investing. They're throwing people into it. They're throwing money at it. They're doing whatever they possibly can. You can see the output. You see the fans that show up and watch the game and that makes it that much more exciting. You want to entertain them. It's where you go to watch the best football."

Her loan spell with Lyon went about as well as it could. With the midfielder helping to lead the charge, the French powerhouses won the Division 1 Feminine twice, the Coupe de France Feminine and, most importantly, the Champions League. Horan sees that Champions League win as one of the highlights of her career, saying it's the closest thing you can get to an Olympic gold or a World Cup.

"You can see back when we won the Champions League last year, I'm a baby all over the field," she says with a laugh. "I'm crying like non-stop." That moment helped convince her to stay in Europe as she opted to make her stay permanent after about a year-and-a-half in France.

"With Portland, it's difficult because that's been my home for so many years," she said. "I was on loan with the assumption that I was coming back. Nothing against the club and what they're doing because they've had so much success while I was gone. It was just not for me anymore. I wanted to be in Europe. I want to be playing in the Champions League for many more years. I want to go win more trophies with Lyon and challenge myself.

"One thing I do have to say: I can't train on synthetic grass or synthetic turf. Every single day in Portland, it would not do well on my body. I don't think any of those players should be playing on it. So that's my hot take for the day, and I would be mad at myself if I didn't say it! That went into that decision as well."


Dark times, and fighting back against them

There was one other factor that complicated Horan's decision to return to Europe: the fact that her first stint abroad felt like a nightmare. Back in 2021, Horan opened up on the abuse she suffered during her time in PSG, which got so bad that she, at one point, wanted to quit soccer. Horan, who signed with PSG straight out of high school, says she was frequently body shamed by the club's staff, prompting her to lose weight to a point where she felt unhealthy in an effort to appease those in charge.

She left the French side in 2016 and didn't go public until five years later when she realized that, by sharing her experience, she may be able to help someone going through something similar. If a professional athlete is going through something like this, there's no doubt that others are as well.

"It ended up being a big thing just because people were like, absolutely shocked," she says. "You have a national-team player that's talking about this and it's kind of crazy. I think that was what settled in with me because I'm very comfortable speaking about this because I'm sure it's happening elsewhere. Like it's happening to me and I'm playing for the women's national team, I think a lot of players might look at that and be like,' Wow, this is big for a player that's made it here to able to speak about that'.

"So many people in our league reached out saying they're so thankful for that and maybe just having that comfort that someone else has gone through it and whatnot, but yeah, it was difficult. It was so hard."

After playing for the Thorns from 2016-21, Horan was given the opportunity to return to France with Lyon. It was a chance to play at what she saw as the best level she could, but also a chance for her to return to a country where she had some of her darkest moments.

"When I was thinking about going back to France, it obviously came up," Horan said, "And I was nervous. I was just like, 'Now, I need to know who I am'. I needed to remember how far I've come. Obviously, that stuff is always going to affect me. It hurt me at the time. I almost got to a point where I wanted to quit and I've spoken openly about that, but I don't want that to ever happen again.

"I'm also very confident in who I am, the player I am with the body I have, so I'm going to go prove to myself, not to anyone else, that I can go to a new team, even if it's France, and be me and impact their team in the way that I can and be the best version of myself.

"Lyon is nothing like what I experienced in Paris. Everyone there is incredible. Everyone there is supportive, and nothing is about what I went through there. So that's one, the best part, and two, it's just like they want the best for you. They want me to be the absolute best and they have the confidence in me and the leader that I am. I'm an older player now, so they're just like 'We know you know your body and everything that you're gonna do'. They let me prepare in the ways I know how, so it was very helpful that they were so respectful of that."


Recovering the right way

Horan is just 29, a player in the prime of her career. If all goes well, this won't be her last World Cup. One only has to look at her team-mate Rapinoe as evidence, as the legendary winger is with the team for one final go-around at age 38.

But still, Horan realizes that careers are finite. She realizes that she can't work the same way she did when she was 18 and come out functioning on the other side. And, because of that, she's had to make some changes.

The midfielder places a strong emphasis on recovery these days, something she didn't do much of when she was younger. Part of that recovery is, of course, rest. The other part is nutrition and doing the right things to keep your body where it needs to be.

Back in 2022, Horan became an investor and brand ambassador for Cheribundi, a sports nutrition company. It's a product she's used for recovery for years, with Horan saying the tart cherry drink has been a staple of her diet since before she partnered with the company.

For Horan, the partnership made sense as it allowed her to continue to enhance her recovery process as she gets older with more miles in her legs.

"My younger self did three-a-days, four-a-days, training non-stop, whatever I could to just be touching a ball at all times and not really caring about anything else," she says. "I've learned very quickly that that's just not going to be the case the older I get. I've talked a lot about how Cheribundi first came into my life, which was actually early on in the national team. Our strength and conditioning coach, our sports science person, at the time, was telling us to take it and I just did what they said because I was a younger player and if they told me to take it, I'll take it!

"I think the more and more I knew about it, the more I knew about the effects that it had on my recovery and helping me prepare for the next day of training or my sleep or my next game, I was just like, 'I'm fully in it'.

"It's something that everyone takes here with my national team. We have boxes and boxes in our recovery room, and so that's kind of a cool thing for me because I'm very prideful of the sponsorships that I have and I want to actually care about them and like them. Cheribundi has always been super exciting for me because I'm actually invested in it and I actually use it almost every single day. I have to think about everything every single day as a professional athlete, and it's nice to know that there's one thing that you can do to help yourself that's easy."


Looking ahead to a World Cup

The trash talk has already begun and Horan already knows what to expect. When the U.S. play the Netherlands in their second group stage match at the World Cup, Horan will be taping her ankles extra tight. She knows her Lyon team-mates are coming for her.

"You get trash talk every single day from Dan van de Donk," she says with a laugh, "and once we play them, you'll see it. She'll be coming for my ankles like every single play so watch out for that. That will be fun! Her and [Damaris Egurrola] are my team-mates on the Netherlands. They're incredible players and so fun to play with, so I'm very excited to see what's to come for them."

Horan, though, isn't quite willing to look that far ahead. She and the USWNT know that they must take things one game at a time, starting with Vietnam. They know they must prepare for that game the right way, even if they are, in fact, the USWNT.

Horan, of course, is feeling the pressure of the World Cup in general, but it's nothing she isn't used to. Pressure comes naturally to all of those on the USWNT. It has to, considering the stakes. The USWNT is still very much a team that represents more than itself. It represents a country, sure, but also women, women's sports, inclusion, equality, and the list goes on and on. Results matter in the U.S. perhaps more than anywhere else, but being a part of the national team is also about impact.

"There's always going to be pressure on our backs," Horan says. "We live in pressure. If we lose one game or tie or we're not playing well, it's going to be talked about because we have been that standard for so long.

"We have been at the top for so long. We know that and we take that on. That's why we're the U.S. women's national team. We will consistently fight to be at the top and live in that pressure because that's where we're at our best."


Making opponents feel like crap

Heading into the World Cup, Horan and the USWNT are asked plenty of questions on a variety of topics. Horan answered plenty for this story, as you can tell. There's one topic, though, she'll never get tired of talking about, one she knows she could discuss until the end of time.

"I would love to be asked more about the style of football that I like to play," she says, "because I think it's very different than a lot of people think. I think a lot of American fans may not understand just because I think I play a very European-based style of football."

We could do our best to explain that style with examples and statistics and anecdotes. We could put up graphs or player comparisons or videos to illustrate our point, but those can only go so far. So we'll let Horan explain it herself. It's one of her favorite topics, after all, and who better to explain Lindsey Horan than... well, Lindsey Horan?

"I think in America, which this is not saying it's a bad thing, at all, but it's very transitional," she begins. "It's very fast-paced, it's very physically demanding, and I don't think a lot of Europeans can survive in our league, just because it smacks them in the face. I remember when Amandine Henry first came to Portland, I think it smacked her in the face because she was like, 'We are running non-stop!' You have to be fit as hell to be playing in this league. It's like a whole different ballgame over here.

"I do think some of the football aspects, some of the value in the ball, the possession, the combination, the tiki-taka, all of the stuff that I love, gets taken away because it's so fast-paced. There's so much pressing, there's so much demand in these games that you can't chill for a second and just like knock it around. I'm not saying there's not any of that in the NWSL, I think it's gotten better, but I think about my team, Lyon, and the players that I play with and the kind of football that I get to play, I'm like obsessed! Every single training session, it's so entertaining. It's so much fun! I'm enjoying my football so much."

Horan admits that her style of play, her vision for the game, doesn't always align with the USWNT. There are things she wants to do and likes to do that don't always mesh with her team-mates. She's criticized for it and she sees it. She knows that she doesn't always fit in.

She's okay with it, though. She's learning from it. She's studying the game and the movement and the tactics and the sequences and dissecting it as much as one human can. It's soccer, or football, after all. There's nothing she loves more.

"I think some people take me wrong with the national team and my style of play or what they want from me or what they expect of me," she says. "I will always value the ball. I've obviously gained a lot more experience with the transition game and being able to fit in. I have that added to my game because we are so good with the U.S. in our transitions. Our attacking transitions, like we're incredible. You can't stop us, Especially with the forwards that we have going into the tournament, you can't stop us.

"That will always be a part of the game, but for me, I'm a player that reads the game and sees it in my vision. I know when to speed up the game, slow down the game with my passing, wanting to get the ball back, set the tone, make the defending team feel like they're not in the game because we're holding on to the ball. That's what I like! I like making them feel like crap because they don't have the ball and playing tiki-taka around them and making them look stupid. I love that!

"That was a long-winded explanation but that's just how I see the game sometimes. I love it. I could talk about football all day, but let's not bore the people out there!"

There's nothing boring about Lindsey Horan, the USWNT star that will lead her side into the World Cup this summer. If all goes to plan, this summer will end with another World Cup trophy in their hands and Horan, as captain, will lift it first.

If the USWNT does get that far, and it is a big if, it'll be at least partly because of Horan. And you just know that, on this road through another World Cup, Horan will be doing things in her own way and with her own style.


Read full article by Ryan Tolmich on 

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