Top 10/50/100

FourFourTwo's USWNT Top 50: No. 9 – Lindsey Horan

A young midfielder of the future kicked off the Top 10 of our USWNT 50 countdown. Now we look at another midfielder – sort of. She's talented anywhere on the field:

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It was her first year in the NWSL, but after three-and-a-half seasons competing for time in one of the most talented squads in Europe, Lindsey Horan was no rookie. Converting from forward to midfield but flashing the same maturity and composure she’d already exhibited for the national team, Horan quickly established herself as one of the most important parts of the Portland Thorns’ 2016 turnaround.

That she did so in an unnatural position tends to be overlooked, likely because the transition seemed so natural. A prolific scorer for the Colorado Rush, Horan was lured to Paris Saint-Germain as a forward, rewarding the Parisians’ scouting (and six-figure annual salaries) with 46 goals in 58 league games. When she returned stateside, though, the 22-year-old was slotted into Mark Parsons’ midfield, scoring five times in 15 games while moving between deep and attacking roles.

Horan’s highlight, though, may have been a play that didn’t show up on the stat sheet. In the season’s last regular-season game, flashing Andrea Pirlo-esque skills, Horan helped break Western New York’s ferocious high press with a serene 45-yard lob, one that sailed over the field’s middle third and allowed teammate Nadia Nadim to draw a penalty, snapping the Flash’s backline beneath her majestically arced ball.

Like the previous player on this list, Samantha Mewis, Horan figures to be a major part of the U.S.’ future, but also like her Flash counterpart, it’s unclear she’s appreciated as much by the national team as she is within the NWSL. For Portland, Horan has become a versatile midfielder whose on-the-ball skills, range in distribution, and scoring instincts project as a uniquely productive piece. This is a player who, in her best years, could threaten double-digits in both goals and assists, and doesn’t take much imagination to see the second coming of Lauren Holiday in how Horan has begun to develop.

The sad half of that projection is what Holiday had to be for the U.S. A starter from 2011 on, Holiday was moved from forward to wing and eventually to deep midfield, with only a short span allowing her to try her natural position, attacking midfield. Horan, unfortunately, seems to be dealing with the same uncertainty. Whether it’s because of competition, formation, or style, Jill Ellis and her staff haven’t been able to leverage Horan as expertly as Parsons has in Portland.

The good news is that Horan is still one of the youngest players in the pool, and with an all-around game that’s rivaled by few of her peers, she’s likely to excel wherever she’s deployed in the future. Whether she’s put in a place to shine internationally or not, Horan is going to be a star.

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NEXT: Another young, central midfielder at No. 8