Wednesday, June 16

Lindsey Horan’s USWNT performance against Portugal could deepen six concerns about Julie Ertz’s injury

This was the first game in two months for the US women’s national team, and they won’t play one that matters for another month. However, there was an essential component of Thursday night’s friendly, and it was obvious that coach Vlatko Andonovski wanted to make sure it was handled before someone made it to the locker room. So he spoke to midfielder Lindsey Horan immediately after the Americans completed a superficial 1-0 win over Portugal.

“I told him he was a monster on the field,” Andonovski said afterward.

He has been in charge for less than two years and has yet to run the USWNT in a major competition. So even with an 18-0-1 record to date, it seems a bit premature to label Andonovski a good coach for the national team. But her zeal to assure Horan that she had fulfilled the role of defensive midfielder typically handled by Julie Ertz, the No. 6 in soccer parlance, suggested she might be a good coach to play at this level.

Andonovski praised Horan (photo below) for excelling in “aerial challenges, intercepting balls, controlling the game from the bottom of the field.” And he did all of that when necessary. It just wasn’t necessary that often.

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Portugal played a low block for most of the game, rarely possessing the ball, and less often pushing it past the midline. This is not uncommon for USWNT opponents to find themselves at a massive talent disadvantage, which is most of them. However, the role of No. 6 is of great importance in games against teams like Sweden, the initial opponent on July 21 at the Olympics.

It is unclear if Horan will be in this position against Sweden. Ertz sprained the MCL in her right knee in her first NWSL game a month ago for the Chicago Red Stars, and Andonovski has said she hopes she is healthy in time for the Olympics.

What is certain, however, is that the USWNT has almost unreasonable depth in every field position except this one. Tobin Heath, who started on the right side of the front row during the 2019 World Cup campaign, is out with an ankle injury. Christen Press held that position against Portugal. She owns 145 international matches and 60 international goals. Carli Lloyd replaced forward Alex Morgan in the 73rd minute; Lloyd has scored more goals than all but five women in the history of the game. Defender Tender Davidson entered the game at the same time; he excelled in his only start at the 2019 World Cup and can play as a left-back or central defender.

However, when Ertz (photo below) was injured, there was no such obvious answer.

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However, there were reasons to believe that Horan’s gifts might well translate into that position.

“Julie, of course, is always going to be a big problem to fill,” midfielder Sam Mewis told reporters on a post-game Zoom call. “But I’m proud of Lindsey.”

Horan began his career as a forward for Paris Saint-Germain, then moved on to occupy an offensive midfield position after moving to Portland Thorns. Although she is one of the best in the world, named NWSL MVP in 2018, she has been in and out of the US starting lineup because the competition for positions is so extreme.

Horan started four of the seven 2019 World Cup matches, while Mewis started five and Rose Lavelle started all but one. The latter two have given Andonovski no reason to believe that former coach Jill Ellis was wrong to deploy the pair so often in attacking midfield positions; Mewis, in fact, scored the winning goal against Portugal with a header off a Press corner kick.

Expanding his repertoire to include the defensive role will give Horan another avenue in the starting lineup. His ability to cover ground and his vision and ability to make the kind of passes that launch forward movements allow Horan to play the position as Xabi Alonso did at Real Madrid.

The only question is how effective Horan could be in disrupting opposition attacks.

Horan had his first chance against Portugal in the 8th minute and surgically struck the ball, pushing it towards Lavelle for a shot that led to a dangerous free kick opportunity for the USA.In the 25th minute, Horan bet he could achieve another one of those maneuvers but failed, leaving the door open to a wave that a team better than Portugal could have punished. A dozen minutes later, Horan expertly disarmed another opposition counterattack.

“She is never satisfied. She always wants more, ”Andonovski said. “The first thing he asked was when we could see the video.

“That is what makes us improve.”

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