Lindsey Horan 2019 – scout report
Lindsey Horan is a name that is well known to those familiar with the American women’s soccer landscape. She aided the USA in a dominant 2019 Women’s World Cup title run and has won silverware with multiple club teams as well. In this scout report, we will look into some of the qualities that allow Horan to create such an impact on every team she plays for. Through analysis, we can see that her individual ability is at a high enough level that she is able to positively affect both attacking and defensive tactics for her teammates. This tactical analysis will look at exactly how she does it.
Horan was born in 1994 in Golden Colorado (a few miles west of Denver). By the time she was 13 years old, she had already been recruited into the ranks of youth club, Colorado Rush. With Rush, she made an immediate impact and quickly began to draw attention from across the country. Upon graduating high school, Horan was offered a scholarship to play for the University of North Carolina, who was and is currently coached by World Cup-winning and 21 time NCAA title-winning Anson Dorrance.
Horan decided to take her talents and development abroad and instead signed with Paris Saint-Germain in 2012. There, playing as a forward, she scored 46 goals in 58 appearances. In her time with the club, she helped PSG to a UEFA Champions League final win in 2015. Within a year, Horan chose to return to the United States and joined former PSG teammate Tobin Heath with the Portland Thorns. Horan was soon converted to a central midfielder (a role she also played with the USWNT).
With Thorns, Horan experienced another streak of success. She led the Thorns to a championship in 2017 over North Carolina Courage by scoring the lone goal of the match. In 2018 she was named the MVP of the NWSL.
For her country, Horan was first called to the USWNT U-17 squad at age 15. She quickly made an impact and by age 18 she was called into the senior squad. Horan was a robust presence in the United States midfield unit that saw her win her first World Cup.
Horan ranks third in the NWSL in aerial duels with 9.95 per 90 minutes along with a 60% success rate (second in the league). Her aerial ability is particularly useful for the Portland Thorns, due to their typically aggressive press when out of possession.
Thorns have the second-highest press in the league with an average PPDA of 9.95 per 90 minutes. This leads Thorns to recover the ball in the attacking third of the pitch a league-leading 19% of the time.
When teams are faced against a high press, the use of long balls over the opposing press tends to be increased in usage. Horan’s aerial ability allow Thorns to press high and remain comfortable knowing they have her lurking in the midfield to win aerial balls.
Horan can be found excelling in aerial duels when she is positioned both in front of and behind her direct opponent. She has the spatial awareness to line up in an optimal location and position herself to claim important space before the ball arrives. If the opponent is in front of her, as the ball arrives she tends to lower her centre of gravity and keep her opponent at bay with her arms (without fouling).
If the opponent is behind her she likes to arrive near the ball and initiate a jump before the opponent can (literally) gain the upper hand. By jumping first and opening one’s arms, a player can create a sort of block against nearby opponents who also jump. If the opposition jumps as well, they will jump into the arms of the first player will not rise any higher. Sometimes the jump of an opponent into the first player’s outspread arms can also push the first player higher into the air.
Below, we can see a few examples of Horan executing her aerial technique. In a match vs Seattle Reign (now OL Reign) a long ball from the keeper has been executed. Horan quickly assesses where the ball is travelling and moves to the ball’s destination. Her direct opponent attempts to back into Horan’s space to win the ball.
As we can see, Horan has lowered her hips and therefore her centre of gravity. This movement along with the outstretching of her left arm and elbow allows Horan to “box out” the Reign midfielder. The ball arrives and Horan is able to win the header with little interference from her opponent.
When an aerial ball is arriving and Horan is in front of her direct opponent she takes a different approach. Instead of moving to the space of arrival immediately, she moves a couple of metres away to leave the space vacant. Her positioning tends to draw the opponent towards her as both players prepare to win the header.
Just before the ball arrives, Horan bursts forward and jumps to head the ball unmarked. We can see in the image above that Horan is in the air and has perfectly timed the arrival of the ball. Meanwhile, her opponent is almost flatfooted and does not have the body positioning to effectively combat Horan’s movement.
Although Horan is quite capable in aerial duels, that is but a single facet in her playing ability. Horan ranks number one in the league in overall duels (attacking, defensive, loose ball and aerial) with a massive 33.14 duels per 90 minutes. This, paired with a 50% success rate (also one of the best in the league) shows us a player that has the ability to dominate her area of influence.
Claudio Ranieri once said “A strong midfield counts for 60 to 70 per cent of the game’. This quote can also be paired with chess grandmaster Nigel Short’s “if you control the centre you dominate the board.” Controlling the centre of the pitch is often a team’s foundation to winning three points at the final whistle.
Horan’s presence in the midfield gives the ability for her team, whether it be Thorns or USWNT to control the centre of the pitch. Horan does this, as we have said, through her aerial ability. Additionally, her ability as an attacker adds an additional layer to her game.
Having spent time as a striker in her youth and with her time at PSG, Horan is able to win duels in the midfield and aid Thorns in their attacking progressions. Below we see a perfect example of this.
In her match against Reign, Horan was faced with possession in an underload on the left flank. We can see that in this moment, Reign have a fairly compact and layered structure to bring any Thorns attack on that flank to a halt. In front of Horan, she sees a 3v5 underload.
Instead of recycling possession, Horan decides to go on the attack. As a Reign midfielder pressures her, Horan shifts her shoulders to the middle of the field. This signals to the Reign player that Horan intends to move the ball towards the central channel, which would be a logical option.
Instead, Horan cuts the ball to her left foot with the inside of her right foot and bypasses the first Reign player. As Horan moves forward, a second Reign player initiates pressure. Horan, once again, opens her shoulders to the central channel to imply that she will release the ball to her teammate who is moving into space. Again, Horan again uses the inside of her right foot to quickly cut the ball to her right foot.
In this moment, Horan has bypassed two Reign players. While she was executing her two 1v1 duels, Horan’s nearby teammates were moving into advanced attacking positions. As Horan penetrates into the new space in front of her we see a completely different picture than three seconds previous.
Now, the Reign players are not in any sort of compact defensive shape and four of them are now behind Horan. Additionally, Horan now has four immediate and dangerous passing options.
Horan’s duelling ability not only allows her to win 1v1 duels in the midfield but allows her to reshape her team’s attacking tactic in that moment. We notice in the example that Horan’s teammates did not wait to see if Horan would be successful. They moved into attacking positions knowing that it was completely possible for Horan to take on and disrupt the Reign defensive shape.
Box to Box
We can take Horan’s ability to dominate and control the area she is positioned in and see that she has the ability to control the midfield. If we also take into account that Horan has the drive and endurance to play box to box we can see that she has the ability to influence play across the entire pitch.
Horan can be found assisting in the build-up phase as well as assisting in the finishing phase. In addition to contributing to Thorns as a dueler, she is also quite skilled in moving the ball into attacking spaces. Horan ranks seventh in the league in overall passes with 51.14 per 90 minutes and a 78% success rate. What makes that statistic stand out is that five of the six passers ranked above her are defenders. This is not unusual, as we see many phases of play where an out of possession team will drop into a low or mid-block and allow the attacking team’s defenders to possess the ball with little to no pressure. Horan often receives the ball under intense pressure and still finds a way to execute many successful passes.
Horan also ranks eighth in the league in deep completions, which are non-cross passes that are targeted to the zone within 20 metres of the opponent goal. She also ranks tenth in the league in passes to the final third with 8.11 per 90 minutes and a 67% success rate. These statistics paint a picture of a player who is present near the ball all times and leaves a strong attacking imprint on the game.
We can see a few examples of Horan impacting play in both the build-up phase and finishing phase of Thorns’ play. Below, Thorns are attempting to play out of the back against Reign. Reign are executing an aggressive player-to-player press in an attempt to win the ball high up the pitch.
Horan, as a single pivot, receives the ball with her back to the opponent goal, which is a pressing trigger for the Reign players. Horan has already scanned the field and is aware of the player pressuring her from behind.
Having scanned the field before the ball’s arrival, Horan is also aware that Thorns’ right-back is in a pocket of space on the right flank. Horan takes her first touch towards her own goal to utilize her current available space. Without taking her focus off the ball, Horan takes a few touches towards her own goal and then launches an aerial ball in the forward path of the Thorns right-back. Thorns are then able to progress their phase of possession into the middle third of the pitch.
It should be noted that Horan knew what she was going to do before the ball was released to her. Instead of receiving the ball and then making a decision, which wastes precious seconds, Horan had calculated the tactical situation around her and bypassed the Reign press as quickly as possible.
Horan also contributes on the attacking end of the pitch. Although you will not find her at the top of the goals or assists charts, her presence and off-the-ball movements often lead to Thorns goals. Opposing teams cannot afford to let Horan roam freely in dangerous attacking areas. This causes her runs to severely affect and disrupt opposing defensive units.
Below is a moment in the match against Chicago Red Stars. Thorns have progressed into the attacking third and are looking to penetrate into the box. Horan is initially dormant in the middle third as an option to recycle possession.
She then recognizes that the Red Stars backline is disorganized and that a potential overload can be created. Horan bursts forward and sprints straight at the Red Stars goal. Horan’s marker chooses to remain in her central position in front of the Red Stars backline, thus leaving Horan unmarked. Meanwhile, the Red Stars centre-back is suddenly faced with three attackers directly in front of her.
Horan continues to penetrate forward and draws the attention of the nearby Red Stars defenders. Her off-the-ball run causes enough chaos to allow her teammates more freedom of movement and more time on the ball. Thorns score a goal off of this sequence of play. Horan’s movements will not go down as an assist, but the threat of her presence and penetration into space was more than enough to disrupt and distract the Red Stars defensive unit.
At 26 years of age, Horan seems to just be hitting her peak performance level. If she maintains or improves her current ability she will be a major force in the American football landscape for seasons to come.