U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Vlatko Andonoski made seven changes to the starting line-up for Friday’s Olympic qualifier against Panama, and getting Lindsey Horan into the mix earlier was the right call. The U.S. defeated Panama 8-0 to advance to the semifinal round of the 2020 Olympic Qualifying Tournament and did so with a commanding hatrick and two assists from Horan. The U.S. sits with six points in Group A after a 4-0 win over Haiti earlier in the week and the 8-0 result against Panama.
In addition to Horan’s three finishes, the U.S. also had goals from Lynn Williams, Rose Lavelle, Jessica McDonald, Christen Press, and Tobin Heath. We’re here to talk about Horan’s impact though, because it started in the third minute and didn’t shut off until the final whistle.
The Portland Thorns FC midfielder earned her first start of the tournament and chipped in a goal in just the third minute of play. Williams created the chance thanks to her speed and work rate down the right flank and sent a dangerous ball into the middle where Panama goalkeeper Yenith Bailey got a piece of, but it skipped out to the right where Horan was able to knock it home for the 1-0 lead.
The Great Horan is 2 for 2 in Olympic Qualifying so far . pic.twitter.com/TAtXZnUWhd— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) February 1, 2020
Horan is one of those players that never stays in the same spot. Her runs are dynamic and her commitment to getting involved in the final third and dangerous positions is why her teammates call her “The Great Horan.” Against Haiti, Horan’s grit in the final third earned the U.S. its third goal of the game. She headed home a service from Rapinoe in the 73rd minute after subbing into the game just two minutes before.
In the 15th minute, Horan’s role shifted to playmaker when she found Williams in stride down the middle of the pitch. Horan’s ball was perfectly weighted and set up the second goal of the game. Williams tucked it away for the 2-0 lead.
Three minutes later, Horan tapped in her second goal of the game. Call it being in the right place at the right time, but it truly took reading the game and preparing for the Panama defense to make mistakes to finish that goal. It also probably helped that Horan would expect nothing less than a crafty dummy from long-time teammate Emily Sonnett, who helped set up the goal with her work out of the right back position.
Horan chipped in another assist in the 78th minute and then scored her final goal of the game in the 81st minute. Similar to how Horan read Williams’ central runs in the first half, she was able to pick out Tobin Heath’s run behind the Panama backline in the second half.
Horan’s 81st minute goal was a combination of everything Horan’s good at. Her ability to read the game meant she could spot McDonald making a run down the left side, her passing accuracy was clear when she found McDonald in stride, and her commitment to staying involved meant she never turned off the gas and followed the play through. McDonald ended up playing a cross into the box where Horan was present to finish it first-time and secure the 8-0 victory.
A first career hat trick and scoring in back-to-back games is clearly worth a nod, but what is even more impressive about Horan’s performance are her overall stats. Out of her nine shots, she finished with seven on target. She created six chances and had a 83% passing accuracy on the night. Attacking aside, she also won nine duels and made five tackles. After two games, Horan is tied with Canada’s Adriana Leon with most goals (4) in the tournament. She is just behind Leon on the stat sheet for shots with 11.
After the match, Andonoski spoke with the media and said he believes Horan is just getting started. “I thought Lindsey was exceptional. I thought she did an incredible job. Obviously like you said, she scored three goals and had two assists so had a direct impact on the game with five goals all together. I’m just happy that she’s coming back to her full and best form and I think that the best of Lindsey Horan is going to come.”
Across the board, the U.S. dominated with 39 shots to Panama’s one. The U.S. also got 21 shots on goal, while Panama didn’t get their one chance on net. Horan is fit and playing some of the most complete soccer we’ve seen in some time, so it would be shocking if Andonovski doesn’t continue to use her in the midfield. This does however mean some of the otherwise present midfielders like Samantha Mewis and Julie Ertz took a backseat on Friday night. Neither player got in the game, and while Ertz and Mewis are both effective as shutdown midfielders, Horan’s playmaking took center stage. Panama wasn’t a threat, so as the competition does get more challenging through the tournament it will be interesting to see how the U.S. and Horan adapts and solves pressure.