PORTLAND, Ore. – At the start of the NWSL season, you’d have found plenty of people who thought Lindsey Horan would be good this year. But they might not have expected her to be this good.
Fourteen goals, three assists, and countless passes, tackles and headers later, there was no doubt she was the leading candidate to win this year’s MVP award. Horan imposed herself on game after game, creating a total package that was impossible to stop.
On Friday, she was officially crowned with the title.
“Honestly, I really haven’t been able to take it all in,” she said. “It’s a huge honor to win this award, but I feel like I can’t really celebrate it just yet. I want to be able to celebrate it after this game tomorrow, and doing that with my team is so special.”
“This game” is Saturday’s NWSL title showdown between Horan’s Portland Thorns and the regular-season champion North Carolina Courage (4:30 p.m. ET, Lifetime). It will be the latest of many big stages this year on which Horan has had the chance to shine.
— NWSL (@NWSL) September 21, 2018
She wasn’t kidding about her deep bond with her teammates, especially fellow star Tobin Heath.
“I think Tobin is probably the best player in the world right now,” Horan said. “The things she can do with the ball and off the ball and her technical ability, it’s world-class … She’s a role model for me and one of my all-time idols.”
That may seem strange to read, given both players are United States national team stars. But it’s a reminder Horan is still just 24, while Heath is 30.
“Me being on the same field as her just gives me this calmness,” Horan said. “I know I can give her the ball and she’s going to do something special every single time.”
She also credited manager Mark Parsons for bringing the best out of her in what’s now her third season in Portland.
“The player-coach relationship on and off the field is so important to me, and the confidence that he’s instilled in me has been remarkable, and I thank him so much for that,” Horan said.
Parsons returned the favor with a bit of humor, joining the MVP announcement news conference as a fake reporter.
“Your team seemed like a pretty close team, and having a lot of fun,” he said.
“Security,” Horan requested, and the room erupted in laughter. “I don’t know who let him in here.”
“What I wanted to ask was, which member of the staff has the funniest jokes?” Parsons said.
“I know who has the worst jokes,” she replied, “but we won’t name him. I think [goalkeeper coach] Nadine [Angerer] is probably the all-time greatest.”
“What about the head coach?”
“He’s good, not great. He tries really hard.”
“That’s enough, thank you,” Parsons concluded, and the laughter continued.
It was funny on the surface, but in reality, it was more proof of the bond between coach and player.
“It hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies for me throughout the last three seasons, and we can all say that at points in our career, but he has stood by me every single day and pushed me harder and harder,” she said.
A few minutes later, Parsons was up on the podium himself and said what he really felt.
“I think she’s the only one capable of having the impact across so many different areas on and off the ball,” he said. “She is at a very, very elite level, and I think she’s just getting started. … The fact that she’s doing the work [and] the stats of what three or four players normally put up on good teams, it’s a great place to be when you’ve still got room to grow.”
Considering how good she is now, and with the big stage of a World Cup on the horizon next year, one can only imagine what an even better Lindsey Horan will look like.
Jonathan Tannenwald is the soccer beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is covering the NWSL championship game this weekend for Pro Soccer USA. See more of his work at philly.com/jtannenwald, and follow him on Twitter at @thegoalkeeper.