Unsung Hero of the Week: Hip-Hip Horan Leads Portland

Kelley Piper

In this weekly series, I will be highlighting a player from the weekend who was their respective team’s unsung hero, win, lose or draw. A player who does the dirty work, does the little but important things in a game and someone who didn’t exactly fill up the stat sheet but found other ways to contribute.

This week I’ve chosen Portland Thorns midfielder Lindsey Horan.

The Colorado Native may only be 23-years-old, but she already has plenty of experience having played four years with the French giant Paris Saint-Germain from 2012-2015. She was certainly a force in her time overseas, scoring 46 goals in 58 appearances. Horan really developed further as a technical player and one who is gifted with a strong passing ability. She has also earned time on the U.S. National Team, becoming a regular now and already has 37 appearances and three goals.

Both teams had quite the star power and her current club team is no different, spoiled with Christine Sinclair (CAN), Tobin Heath (USA), Amandine Henry (FRA) and Nadia Nadim (DEN, each who are successful veterans of their respective National teams. Horan has fit in well in Portland, appearing in 33 games over her two years and contributing nine goals.

Portland 3-2 Chicago:

This was an intriguing matchup for several reasons; the pure star power each team has on paper, two of the best defenses in the NWSL and two clubs who are poised to likely meet in the playoffs in less than two months. Prior to this game, Portland had only scored five goals on the road all season long but they almost matched that total at Toyota Park in front of 4,934 people.

Despite missing a handful of key players the last few weeks due to the European Championships, the Portland Thorns came into this game riding a three-game win streak. They set the tone early, with Horan leading the way and Aussie Hayley Raso as her speedy sidekick. Both were getting involved in the attack early and it paid off to stun a Chicago club and honestly, I wasn’t expecting that fast of a start by the Thorns.

In the third minute (told you it was early!) Horan found herself not being pressured at all and had time to look up and pick who she wanted to give the ball to. The Chicago backline somehow let Sinclair and Raso in behind and with a blink of an eye and lovely 30-yard pass from inside her own half, the Thorns were in business. Raso caught up to Horan’s pass and two touches later found the back of the net, despite a valiant effort from Chicago keeper Alyssa Naeher.

Like I mention earlier, Horan has become known for her passing and it was on full display. I think it’s the most valuable part of her game, to be able to make those gorgeous passes not only to switch field or spring an attack but in tight spaces as well. This Portland team has many technical players but Horan was the one who stood out the most on this day.

Just a few minutes later, Horan tapped into another a part of her game, one that I have not paid much attention to until lately, her ability to dispossess threats. Last week she did a fantastic job keeping tabs on Houston’s midfield and more importantly worked well to minimize the threat known as Carli Lloyd. This particular play versus Chicago was impressive again because of the opponent–Christen Press, a player with 33 goals across her NWSL career, the second-most in league history. Horan took the ball so effortlessly from Press at midfield, another thing we don’t see, Press actually losing possession.

In the eighth minute, Horan put herself into position to receive a ball and then earned a corner against her fellow National Team teammate, Casey Short. Horan made the extra effort to make the run to drive 20 yards to the end line, giving her team yet another strong play.

The first 10 minutes Horan was everywhere, working a double-team on defense, spraying passes out wide or over the top, earning corners and helping keep possession for a lengthy amount of time. The energy she brought not only created chances on goal but momentum as well. Throughout the first half she also was making several aerial challenges, getting in the passing lanes to disrupt Chicago, just had a really calming presence overall.

Portland added another in the ninth minute, and then Chicago scored a goal in the 15th thanks to Press and again in the 38th minute to equalize before the half, and to make for a wide-open game once the players returned to the field.

Horan was back at it again in the 48th minute, this time executing another part of her game that I’m sure opposing fans don’t care for: the keen ability to draw fouls. It brings me to my next point, Horan is so good at keeping the ball close to her, she’s really mastered that control and it shows just how much work she has put in over the years and continues to do so with Portland. In doing, opponents often do foul her, hacking at her shins or getting in a hip check every now and then. Doesn’t matter, the concentration Horan displays with the ball sure is fun to watch.

That’s become part of her craft, putting herself in positions to draw a foul. At times, it’s so hard for defenders to get the ball, that giving a foul is the last resort and the easy way to try to break up her rhythm. On the flip side of that, Horan is also a player who loves to tackle and go after the ball, and has no problem contesting for it.

Portland would get the eventual game-winner in the 55th minute by way of defender Emily Sonnett, who has recently caught fire as well.

In the 66th minute Horan got a shot off on her own and while it went a few feet wide, I have no problem with her taking a chance from distance. Even if the shot wasn’t quite on frame, getting the keeper on their toes is important and you never know when you might sneak one by. Ten minutes later and Horan showed her skill while juggling to keep the ball while at the same time create space to get away from a defender. She maintained control and volleyed it to a teammate, not letting the pressure distract her. She had a player in her back pocket and could’ve easily cleared it upfield but instead, Horan made the quick decision and kept possession for the Thorns.

While it may not seem like a big deal or one with minimal significance, this game was completely unpredictable, each team scoring goals very fast and in lovely fashion. So, to make that kind of smart play that deep into the game to me showed that Horan was still focused and making sure she didn’t make a mistake that would cost her team.

In a game where Portland was missing Allie Long due to an excused absence, continued to play with out the injured Tobin Heath, and with Amandine Henry and Dagny Brynjarsdottir not quite having their usual impact, Horan stepped up in all the right ways. These three points were vital in the Thorns’ quest to secure to the first trophy of this season’s two trophies, the Supporters Shield, and an important confidence booster as they set their sights on the Championship game itself.

With the loss, Chicago drops to third place while Portland leapfrog them into the second spot. With seven games left in the regular season, the race for the playoffs is on and Portland seems to be heating up at just the right time.

Image courtesy of Kelley Piper
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