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Colorado’s Lindsey Horan poised to lead USWMT midfield during pandemic-delayed Summer Olympics

Team USA faces resolute Sweden side in an opening grudge match very early on July 21.

John A. Babiak - @Photog_JohnB

In a matter of hours, Golden, Colorado native Lindsey Horan will embark on her second Olympics tournament, this time in the heart of Tokyo, Japan. The 27-year old product of the Colorado Rush Soccer Club program has amassed a mountain of medallions and trophies since she first stepped foot on a neighborhood football pitch.

Once again, she aims to bring back solid gold, just like after the Women’s World Cup tournament that was held throughout France in 2019.

John A. Babiak - @Photog_JohnB

“Winning a World Cup is the pinnacle of soccer and it was the goal I had for my whole life. It was an absolute dream, but now our minds shift to the Olympics. That’s just the way it is. All eyes on Olympic Gold. That’s the way it works with us,” Horan said in an interview earlier this year.

Horan is well-positioned to lead the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT), especially in the midfield. After making a full recovery from COVID-19 this past November, she went on to play in every game for the Stars and Stripes during the team’s build-up to the Summer Olympics. While rehabilitating from her infection at the Colorado Rush field house in west Denver this past December, Horan told the Burgundy Wave that “It was a real misery. I had all the symptoms. It was some of the worst I’ve ever felt in my life.”

The dedicated Horan not only trained both indoors with Colorado Rush Pro Development college prospects and players, but she also took her recovery program into Colorado’s brisk winter season. She leased out a soccer field not far from her residence and trained daily for successive months with her long-time friend and fellow Coloradoan Janine Beckie, who is a member of the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team and also plays for Manchester City. The hard work and grit paid good dividends. In her last 20 appearances, the Golden High School graduate has delivered seven assists and scored 10 times.

One of her personal favorites was during a recent friendly at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut. Her veteran teammate, Carli Lloyd, headed the ball at a surging Horan, who finished up with a made-for-television highlight volley off of her extended right foot into the back of the next. Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski called it, ”A next level, finish... I mean, crazy.” After the match with Mexico, a beaming Horan said, “They’re my favorite shot to hit. I’ve been waiting for a volley all my life.”

Role model. Role player.

Over and over, Horan has demonstrated she can tackle all the positions in the team’s midfield. When Julie Ertz got an MCL injury in late May, Andonovski turned to Horan to step in as the holding midfielder. Ertz missed all of the pre-Olympics international friendlies. Meanwhile, Horan filled in like the versatile, no-questions-asked workhorse that she is, and gained even more experience and respect as a player and field leader.

“She played very good,” Andonovski said during the post-Mexico game press conference. “She’s a total footballer, understands the game knows the game, regardless of what position she plays. She’s going to do well. She had to change her role in different times of the game, different ways.”

It is still unknown whether or not Ertz will suit up for the opening match with rugged Sweden. If not at 100%, expect Horan to take on the defensive-midfield role. If Ertz is ready to play, Horan will shift to her favorite position: attacking wing.

With Horan, Ertz, Rose Lavelle, and Sam Mewis, the team has a bounty of gifted midfielders. Throw in Catarina Macario and Kristie Mewis, and the six make up the world’s best available women’s midfield.

“I’m so thankful that I have the midfielders in the team that I have because they make me better every single day, and they make me push, they make me compete,” Horan said during her meeting with the press from Japan. “I know I have to be at my absolute best if I want to be on the field.” The next time Horan steps on the field wearing red, white, and blue, it will be her 99th cap.

“They’re all starting player material,” Andonovski said of his midfielders from their training outpost in Japan. “What I may contemplate the most is obviously the form that they’re in and the performance but also the opponent that is ahead of us, whether the opponent is more aggressive, sits low, defends higher, high presses, the formation that they play... everything that they do, we try to analyze and match with the abilities of the midfielders that we have.”

Horan is the heartbeat of the team’s core unit, whether moving forward or supporting the backline. More balls travel through her than any player on the team. Who dies she emulate when attack? Lionel Andrés Messi.

“I got it into my head early to watch Messi, I would follow Messi on the TV screen and see what choices he made. I was obsessed. And it wasn’t just him, but Iniesta and Xavi, too —this was wizardry! It opened up my mind to a whole new world,” she said. Given Horan has made 20 appearances since her return to play, fans should expect to see plenty of her on the in the next two-plus weeks.

Grudge Match

The 12-team tournament includes eight of the world’s top 10 teams and the four semifinalists from the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Overall, the USA owns a 25-2-5 in Olympic competition. The U.S. and enters the tournament looking to win its fifth gold medal.

This team arrived in Japan unbeaten in its last 23 games, with only a back-and-forth draw with rival Sweden this past spring. The draw brought the USA’s 16-game winning streak to a close. It also marked the first time the USWNT had trailed at any point in a match under head coach Vlatko Andonvoski.

Currently ranked fifth by FIFA, Sweden knocked the USWNT out of the 2016 Olympics on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals and eventually went on to win the silver medal. Following Sweden, the USWMT will face-off with New Zealand and Australia.

The Lady Yanks will not only have to negotiate a challenging schedule, but Japan’s hot summer climate, and so on only two rest days between matches. The postponed 2020 Olympic tournament will run from July 21 through August 6, with six group games taking place on each of the first-round dates — July 21st, 24th, and 27th.

According to the Olympics’ women’s soccer rule book, the top two finishers in each group plus the two best third-place teams advancing to the quarterfinals. Should teams be tied on points and the end of group play, the first tie-breaker is superior goal difference followed by most total goals scored.

All of this is assuming the Olympics go on. With Opening Day scheduled for Friday and COVID-19 cases on the rise in Tokyo, the organizing committee’s chief said there will be “continued discussions” if there is a spike in cases. Read more from Front Office Sports here.

USWNT 2021 OLYMPIC WOMEN’S SOCCER ROSTER BY POSITION (CAPS/GOALS)

GOALKEEPERS (3): 22-Jane Campbell (Houston Dash; 5), 18-Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns FC; 6), 1-Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars; 73)

DEFENDERS (7): 17-Abby Dahlkemper (Manchester City, ENG; 71/0), 12-Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars; 34/1), 2-Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC; 116/24), 20-Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars; 34/0), 5-Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit; 140/2), 4-Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC; 188/0), 14-Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit; 56/0)

MIDFIELDERS (6): 8-Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars; 110/20), 9-Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC; 98/22), 16-Rose Lavelle (OL Reign; 56/14), 19-Catarina Macario (Olympique Lyon, FRA; 7/1), 6-Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash; 26/4), 3-Samantha Mewis (North Carolina Courage; 77/23)

FORWARDS (6): 7-Tobin Heath (Unattached; 171/35), 10-Carli Lloyd (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 306/126), 13-Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride; 180/110), 11-Christen Press (Unattached; 149/63), 15-Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign; 179/59), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage; 37/11)