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A decade after being a rebel, Lindsey Horan is now the U.S. women’s soccer team’s establishment

Philadelphia Inquirer logo Philadelphia Inquirer 6/26/2022 Jonathan Tannenwald, The Philadelphia Inquirer

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — A decade ago, Lindsey Horan was one of American soccer’s rebels.

When she became the first high-profile American woman to spurn college and turn pro in Europe as an 18-year-old, it sent shock waves across the landscape. Not only that, the college team Horan turned down to sign with Paris Saint-Germain was North Carolina, the game’s superpower.

These days, Horan is as establishment as it gets. Now 28, she inherited the U.S. women’s soccer team’s famed No. 10 jersey from Carli Lloyd last autumn, and is a lock to start just about every game. Horan earned her 110th national team cap Saturday night, playing the first half of the Americans’ 3-0 win over Colombia on the other side of Denver from her hometown of Golden, Colo.

But Horan is still willing to cut against the grain sometimes. That’s part of why she went back to France in January. After six years with the Portland Thorns, the NWSL team she joined from PSG in 2016, she felt she had unfinished business abroad.

This time, Horan signed with Lyon, not just the country’s biggest team but all of Europe’s, on a year-and-a-half loan. And in just a few months, she reached the pinnacle she long dreamed of, winning French league and Champions League titles.

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In doing so, Horan also banished some bad memories of her first stint in France. Those years at PSG were marred by sexist treatment from the team’s coaches, especially when it came to body image.

Horan has long been a private person in public. But when her first campaign with Lyon wrapped up, she took to Instagram to let some things out.

“Returning to France left me with many doubts, second thoughts, sleepless nights,” she wrote. “Questioning everything. I wanted a new challenge. I wanted to win trophies. I wanted to be a part of something great. I wanted to prove to myself I could do this again, differently. Could I rewrite my story?”

The photo with the caption answered those questions: Horan kneeling on a confetti-covered field at Lyon’s stadium, the champions’ podium behind her and two trophies under her arms.

“I look at this photo reliving all of those thoughts and smile,” she wrote.

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On Friday, Horan met with U.S. media over Zoom for the first time since winning those trophies. She was customarily reticent about some things, including a question about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

“I don’t like speaking about this very often, but waking up and hearing that news was not great, to say the least,” she said. “I’m still a little bit shocked and trying to take it all in, but I do feel like this is just a step backward for our country. But that’s all I’m going to say, you know, right now.”

When asked if she’d like to add a few more words to that Instagram post, though, she offered quite a few of them — and they were deep.

“I think back a lot to my time at PSG,” she said. “I was there for three and a half years, and that was a huge risk for me, going at 18 and being the first female to go from high school to pro. I had so many second guesses at that point: What was going to happen? Was I going to achieve the goals and dreams that I had?”

Those questions weren’t just a teenager’s musings. Being in Europe full-time meant being out of the way of U.S. national team scouts, at a time when then-manager Jill Ellis wanted all of her players to be in the NWSL in the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup.

The payoff didn’t come for a while. And as noted above, the costs to staying in Paris went well beyond Horan’s national team fate. In the long run, though, the payoff did come: a move to Portland, a World Cup title in 2019 — in France, coincidentally — and now a stalwart role in Vlatko Andonovski’s U.S. program.

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During Andonovski’s tenure, U.S. Soccer has become much more open to players making club homes in Europe. Rumors that Horan would make use of that started flying months before she moved to Lyon. When she did, it wasn’t surprising. Nor was her success there.

“I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to there [in Paris]. I didn’t have the impact that I wanted,” she said. “I think for me, going back to Lyon, this was another risk that I was just, like, I need it. I need a challenge. I need to find ways to now show who Lindsey is after that first experience.”

Now the mission is accomplished.

“I felt like I was just in France a few years ago, but then you look back, and it’s like, oh, I went 10 years ago. It’s crazy,” Horan said. “But yeah, it’s really cool. It’s really cool to just see how my career has evolved. And, you know, that these risks and sacrifices were worth it.”

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