One in an occasional series about the fresh faces
hoping to join the U.S. women’s team
Lindsey Horan took an odd route to the women’s national team: The 21-year-old Colorado native arrived by way of France.
In 2012, when she was a high school senior, ESPN ranked her as the No. 1 college prospect in the nation. That was probably a valid assessment: Horan was offered a scholarship to the University of North Carolina, where Anson Dorrance has built the
most successful collegiate soccer program in America, recruiting and instructing the best of the best, from Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly to Tobin Heath and Heather O’Reilly to Crystal Dunn and Meghan Klingenberg.
Horan, however, would never wear the Carolina blue. Weeks before the fall semester was to start, she informed Dorrance that she had signed to play professionally for Paris Saint-Germain.
The terms of her two-year contract, which has since been renewed, were not released. Horan told Top Drawer Soccer that the agreement was “very generous.” It’s often referred to as a six-figure deal.
She said it had been her lifelong dream to play professionally. For women in 2012, the place to do that was Europe. The National Women’s Soccer League wouldn’t launch in the United States until 2013.
She’s done well, if not spectacularly, in Paris, scoring 45 goals in 62 appearances over three seasons. Horan, who would be a senior had she gone to college, has more than held her own playing alongside and against more experienced players from the French national team, as well as top female footballers from Germany, Sweden, and elsewhere.
There’s a consensus, however, that by heading overseas, Horan, a tall, strong striker, put herself at a disadvantage compared with peers in the States who, like her, are trying to crack the U.S. national roster.
Put simply, her stateside rivals are here. If U.S. coach Jill Ellis calls, they can be en route to training camp that day.
She, meanwhile, is 5,000 miles from home, playing for a team whose season runs from September to May. That’s three-quarters of the year.
On Oct. 25, she made her third career appearance for the United States, starting at forward and playing 80 minutes. She didn’t do anything mesmerizing, but neither did she make any horrible mistakes.
That was her first cap since 2013.
On March 8 of that year, in the Algarve Cup, Tom Sermanni, then the U.S. coach, brought her on in the 74th minute of what turned out to be a 5-0 rout of China. And on Nov. 10, Sermanni called her number in the 68th minute of a 4-1 victory over Brazil.
That’s it. The the puny international resume of a player once thought to be among the brightest prospects in the United States.
As Ellis bluntly told The New York Times in 2014, when she’s trying out players and assembling a tournament roster, a player in Paris is of no use to her.
“I’m going to need you all the time,” she said. “I’m going to need to see you.”
Historically, it’s always been the collegiate game, and not overseas success, that’s formed the surest path to the U.S. women’s team. Ellis came up through the college coaching ranks — she was an assistant at North Carolina State, Maryland, and Virginia, then head coach at Illinois and UCLA. That’s the proving ground and the talent pool she knows best.
Every one of the 23 Americans on this summer’s World Cup roster played varsity soccer for a Division 1 school.
Six of them played for North Carolina, where Horan may well have been an All-American — maybe an NCAA champion — had she not told Dorrance he could keep his scholarship.
Horan seems at last to have come to the realization that in soccer, absence does not make the heart grow fonder.
There are unofficial but seemingly credible reports that she may sign any day now with the Portland Thorns of the NWSL. The Equalizer cites a European journalist as saying she played her last game for PSG on Saturday (Dec. 4).
If so, it means that a young woman who left three years ago to pursue one dream is heading home now to pursue another: Winning an Olympic gold medal.
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