Ireland v United States
U.S. midfielder Lindsey Horan, 29, did not take the traditional path to becoming a professional soccer player. The Golden, Colorado native walked away from a full scholarship opportunity to play at the University of North Carolina—the same school that bred soccer legend Mia Hamm—to turn pro and play for Paris Saint-Germain in France. It seemed like a dream opportunity for an 18-year-old, but Horan has since shared her experience with body-shaming and a team culture that negatively impacted her mental health.
Over a decade later, Horan, who has since won a World Cup title (2019), an Olympic bronze medal (2021), and Champions League title (2021-2022), has established herself as a leader on the U.S. Women’s National Team. Horan opens up about what she’s learned along the way, the state of the USWNT, what it’s like working with head coach Vlatko Andonovski, and which teams will be a threat ahead of the 2023 Women’s World Cup below.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity
When you look back to the very start of your professional soccer journey—carving out your own path and turning down the full scholarship opportunity at UNC, moving to a foreign country by yourself where you slept with no sheets that first night, dealing with all of the demeaning body shaming and pressure to lose weight—Did you ever think you’d be where you are right now, preparing for your second World Cup team?
Lindsey Horan: I think I had hoped that that would be the case. At that time, I was just hoping to get my first call for the USWNT and hoping that everything that I sacrificed—going overseas and everything that you just stated—would get me to that point. It’s always just a dream thinking of playing in these major tournaments. Maybe at that time, a second World Cup run was not on my mind. [The thought was] can I make this national team? Can I play to their level of standard and be a consistent player there?
Was everything you went through worth it?
Horan: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t think I would go back and change anything. Whatever has happened and whatever you’ve gone through in your career is what was meant to be. The route that I chose and everything that I experienced, has led me to this point and has made me the player that I am today. I don’t regret anything and I’m very happy with all my choices. Obviously, there’s little things you can change here and there, but it is what it is. I’m very, very grateful for it.
You described this emotional moment of you standing with your hand over your heart at the 2019 World Cup, realizing you’ve finally made it to the moment you’ve dreamt of all your life. What emotions do you feel knowing you’ll get to experience it all again for a second time?
Horan: I’m an emotional person in general. I’m very sensitive. This is obviously what we’ve dreamt of ever since we were little kids. I don’t know how a lot of my teammates feel, but making rosters, getting the call up, playing in major tournaments like this, that feeling never goes away. It’s something that I absolutely don’t take for granted.
Looking back on that first World Cup game against Thailand, I know I cried. It was one of the most emotional moments of my career because I couldn’t believe I accomplished everything that I wanted to and that I was playing at a World Cup, representing my country. That’s got to be the most incredible feeling in the world. I love that! How would you sum up your 2019 World Cup experience in one word and why?
Horan: Magical. I think everything that our team did in that World Cup was just insane. Obviously, I was not part of the 2015 World Cup, but to win back-to-back tournaments, with a lot of pressure on your back, with everyone coming after us, and then also making sure we were focused and ready to play every game, despite what we were going through off of the field. I think that it was just incredible what our team put out there and what we accomplished during that tournament. Everything that we did and how we stuck together, and obviously with it being my first major tournament as a World Cup player. Magical is how I would describe it. It’s the first time I’ve actually ever said that but that’s how I felt.
Sweden v USA: Group F – 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France
United States of America v Netherlands : Final – 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France
England v USA: Semi Final – 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France
You talked about the disappointment of not getting to play in the World Cup Final in 2019, feeling like you didn’t have enough big moments, and asking yourself what you need to do to make things different the second time around. What changes did you make and how are you different as a player and a person going into your second World Cup?
Horan: It’s funny. When I look back on these last four years, I think it was more about can I be back to the most confident Lindsey that I could possibly be? I think everything that I’ve done throughout my career has gotten me to this place. But now it’s can you consistently play at that level with that confidence, your standard, enjoy it, and keep challenging yourself with little nuances?
I think that’s what I’ve felt like that I’ve done in the past four years leading up to this tournament. Also, just coming into more of a leadership role. I want to help other players, I want to make them better, and I want to do things to make their lives easier. I think, then it makes my job a lot easier on the field. I play for them. I want to do my absolute best to help the team win every single day and that takes the focus off of the pressure I put on myself to be my best every single day.
I want to be my best for my teammates, for the country behind me that’s watching every single game and supporting us. That’s a cooler feeling to have. It makes it a little easier. That’s how I’ve looked at my game, especially the past two years and playing in Europe as well. Little things that I could challenge myself with but keeping the confidence that I’ve had in myself over the past few years. You mentioned that leadership role. There are so many veterans on the USWNT but you’re one of them. How would you describe your role in that locker room?
Horan: It’s crazy how times change and you have turnover from cycle to cycle. But it’s been really cool for me to step into that leadership role and be somewhat of a mentor for for the younger ones and newer ones coming in, and being able to offer any advice or help that anyone needs. Also, being myself and the way that I lead, I think it’s more by example, especially on the field, so you’ll hear me a lot more when I’m playing versus in the locker room. I hope that I’m that support system for a lot of the younger players coming through.
How is the U.S. team different this time around? How would you describe the current state of the USWNT?
Horan: What’s great about this U.S. system is that we have a lot of young, new players coming through that are excited and will be incredible for our team going into this World Cup, Maybe some that didn’t know they were going to have this big of a role because of injuries.
I would hate myself if I didn’t mention this but it’s hard for me still knowing Mallory Swanson is not going to be at this World Cup. I don’t think anyone is like her. She’s at a different level right now. I’m super, super bummed for her. Especially [with her] being one of my closest friends there as well. But I think we have players that are going to step into these new roles. It’s going to be a young, exciting team. I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to hit them when the U.S. steps out there for the first time at the 2023 World Cup. It’s going be exciting. I think it’s going to be similar with the men’s national team and their last World Cup when they had the youngest team that they’ve had in a in a major tournament. That might be the case for us.
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Earlier on, you talked about that pressure you felt in 2019 to win back-to-back world titles. Do you feel any pressure now going into this World Cup, knowing that you guys could potentially win three consecutive World Cup titles?
Horan: To be honest, when I think of every major tournament, I think of them differently. [That accomplishment] is an insane thing to think about, but I do think our team thinks of it as just another tournament. It’s a bonus, when you can say at the end of it that you’ve won three major tournaments in a row—something that no one’s ever done. Obviously, the goal is to win the World Cup and lift that trophy at the end of the day, but I think we’re just taking it one game at a time. You guys battled your way to the title in 2019 and to a bronze at the Tokyo Games. You guys are the favorite heading into New Zealand but Carli Lloyd recently said that “The rest of the world has caught up. Gone are the days of you guys steamrolling through teams”. What teams look like the biggest threats right now?
Horan: I think a lot of the talk is about these other nations that are getting better and better. Carli is not wrong. I think a lot of the rest of the world has gotten to a new level and standard. That’s what we want. I think the better thing to be saying here is, we’re going to have probably the most competitive World Cup, ever.
It’s funny hearing “the rest of the world caught up.” It’s seems like a bad thing for U.S. soccer but it’s more about about the fact that we set this standard, we set this level, for so many years. Everything that the USWNT has done, even before my time, being on top of the world. Everyone has gotten to a different level within their own country and that’s so cool for the women’s game.
You have England coming off their Euro’s Championship run (2022) and they’re going to be an exciting team for this World Cup. I think, France with their new manager is always going to be a country to watch out for. I could name you know, 20 teams right now but who knows?
What is it like being led by head coach Vlatko Andonovski?
Horan: It’s different from our last coach, Jill Ellis. There’s maybe a little bit of a different coaching style. It’s different in terms of preparation, because it’s a different cycle and turnaround.
I think Vlatko has done a good job of bringing some of the new players in, getting them up to speed, and trusting in them because that’s what was needed. It’s hard when you go from a 2019 World Cup winning team to taking the team into the Olympics, and obviously we didn’t perform the way that we wanted to getting the bronze medal in Tokyo.
Vlatko wants to go out and win and he wants to prepare us the best way he possibly can with the time that he has, which isn’t a lot. I think his first World Cup is going to be exciting for him and we’ll do everything we can to win and and help him get his first trophy too.
From the beginning of your professional soccer player, you’ve been a very well-rounded player. How would you describe your playing style and how has it evolved over the last four years?
Horan: Man, I could go on for days about this. I think I’m a player that obviously loves the ball. I used to play forward and I used to love just scoring goals and being in front of the net. When I got moved back to midfield—which I think is where I’m meant to be because I want to be on the ball so much—it showed me who I want to be. I want to set the tone of the game. I want to set the pace.
I want the ball to run through me, and that’s me, selfishly speaking, but I want to do everything I can to help the team in build up and be able to get into the attack after. I love setting up the team for success in anything that I could possibly do. The vision that I have and my passing ability are probably my biggest strengths. I think that’s why you see me a little bit lower on the field nowadays, and then getting into attack.
I liked possession-based football but my evolution has been in being able to also add a lot of the transition-style and modern-day football and knowing different things that I could possibly do to make myself more dangerous and be more forward thinking. I’ve tried to make myself as difficult to defend as possible.
You dealt with a knee-injury last season, how have you been feeling?
Horan: My knee feels amazing. Better than ever. Coming off that surgery, I think I came off a little too quickly and that’s why I had a hold up in getting back to 100%.
I’m so glad to hear that! What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned on your professional soccer journey so far?
Horan: I think one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned is no matter what is happening throughout your career, everything that you’re going through—ups, downs, losses, titles, whatever— to remember why you’re playing the game. I think a lot of the world and a lot of professional athletes get caught up in those ups and downs, feeling on top of the world, and then feeling on the opposite side of the scale there. To bring yourself back to reality, remember why you’re playing and how much you love this game. That’s why you started playing it. That’s something that I always go back to whenever I’m having certain moments.
No matter how high the highs are, you always come back down and it’s a hard place to be in, especially when you’re in the lowest of lows as well. It’s a hard thing to manage. Professional athletes have a hard time with it mentally. It’s difficult especially because your career is so short.
Also as I’m getting older and more experienced, it’s finding the little things that are going to make me better. When you’re younger, you can do everything you want to do. You can workout as much as want. It’s a little bit easier. But now that I’m getting older, I have a few more tactics to better myself in ways that I didn’t know before. I think those are just the biggest takeaways that I’ve had now and throughout my career. There are ways to get better no matter where you’re at in your career.
You’ve won a World Cup title, an NSWL championship, and a Championships League title, and an Olympic bronze medal. Do you have an award means the most to you? Horan: My goodness, it’s probably hard to say there. I think the World Cup medal probably means the most. That’s where you’re on top of the world and where every professional football player wants to be.
I do have to say that the Champions League title was incredible, probably because I watched it growing up so much as a young girl and that’s where I wanted to be. I vividly remember watching Barcelona back in the days and seeing them lift the Champions League Trophy against some of the best teams in the world was just so exciting for me. I never really thought that would be me one day. That game and playing against Barcelona, winning a Champions League trophy is one of the coolest showings in the world.
FC Barcelona v Olympique Lyonnais – UEFA Women’s Champions League Final 2021/22
FC Barcelona v Olympique Lyonnais – UEFA Women’s Champions League Final 2021/22
You idolized Messi growing up, have you had a chance to meet him or talk to him?
Horan: No! I tell everyone who asks—if you have a way in for me, let me know. I’ve had the chance to watch him play live probably 3 or 4 times which is more important for me but meeting him is on my bucket list.
Has your love for soccer changed in any way?
Horan: Yeah, actually a little bit. I have that passion to go out and play every day. I have the love to watch and learn from the game and get excited every time I get to touch the ball. There’s little things that I’ve started loving even more. Some of the learning, but also the teaching. I’ve gained so much experience, so much knowledge over all the years I’ve played and I love being able to give my knowledge to other people as well.
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