Lindsey Horan looking like favorite to captain USWNT at World Cup

CARSON, Calif. — It’s not that naming a captain for the World Cup is a big secret for the U.S. women’s national team, it’s just that Vlatko Andonovski isn’t ready to make it public.

That’s because he wants to tell his team first. This would have happened Monday night, when all 23 players named to this summer’s World Cup roster arrived in Los Angeles for training camp, but some East Coast flights were delayed. Backup goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury couldn’t get in until early Tuesday morning.

While that inevitably creates a bit of mystery around the U.S. women’s national team with three-and-a-half weeks left before its first group stage match against Vietnam, it’s not that hard to surmise who will wear the armband this summer in Australia and New Zealand.

Signs point to Lindsey Horan.

For starters, she’s worn the armband before and her responsibilities as a leader on this team have grown exponentially over the years. 

She’s a veteran player — specifically a 2019 World Cup champion, a two-time Olympian and a Champions League champion with Olympique Lyon. 

Longtime USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn, who will miss the World Cup due to a nagging injury, has publicly called Horan her “co-captain.” 

And at Tuesday’s USWNT media day, Horan joined stars Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe in a formal press conference setting. They were the only three players to do so, as the other 20 were seated at tables around a large room at Dignity Health Sports Park for more informal interviews with reporters.

Andonovski said he has made a decision on Sauerbrunn’s successor, but was coy with clues. Could it be Morgan (who will turn 34 on July 2) or Rapinoe (who turns 38 on July 5)? Sure — they are the most recognizable faces and role models on this team and have been for years. But the 29-year-old Horan represents the next generation that will lead the program forward.

And players can see that.

Take 18-year-old budding superstar Alyssa Thompson, who just graduated from high school and is the youngest player on this squad. She’s never played in a major tournament with the senior national team before and called Horan asking for advice. Like, what in the world should she pack for a trip like this? The USWNT begins training camp in Los Angeles this week and travels to the Bay Area for a send-off match against Wales on July 9 before heading Down Under. If the USWNT makes it to the World Cup final on Aug. 20, players won’t be home for two months.

“The best phone call ever,” Horan said, smiling. “She wanted to know the essentials for packing for the World Cup and I had no idea what to tell her but it was so cute.” 

Thompson, who figures to be a major player for the USWNT for years to come, could have reached out to anybody. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it Tuesday, but has this feeling about Horan. 

“She’s super welcoming and she has helped me from the beginning,” said Thompson, who earned her first cap last October. “She’s always been looking out for me and I could feel that from her. She wants to help me and she’s been in my position before.”

Thompson started her first USWNT game on April 11 and played the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 win over Ireland. She said Horan guided her through that significant moment.

“I was on the left side and she was just making sure that I was OK to play [on this stage],” Thompson said. “She was like, [you’re] here for a reason and told me to be confident in myself.”

Other players notice it too. Starting goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher called Horan “the definition of a soccer junkie.”

“She’s always walking around with her iPad watching some game,” Naeher continued. “She studies the game, she watches a lot of the games around the world and she brings that to the training pitch. She brings it to the locker room. She’s just passionate about the game and I think that’s contagious.”

If Horan knew what teammates said about her, she’d probably blush. Like her mentor Sauerbrunn, she doesn’t seek the spotlight or attention. When Horan was a young player first starting out on the national team and in the NWSL on the Portland Thorns, she directed all questions and concerns to Sauerbrunn. 

“She’s my first call or my first text,” Horan said, adding that she decided early on she would follow Sauerbrunn’s lead. Now, she hopes to be the same type of role model for her teammates, especially in Sauerbrunn’s absence. 

“For me, coming into my own role and my own type of leader, I think we all have different variations of that,” Horan said. “And it’s important to learn from [ Morgan and Rapinoe] and everything they’ve done before this World Cup and before my time here. But also I want to make sure I have a role that I can fill on this team as well.”

And if Horan’s captaincy is confirmed, the responsibility won’t be lost on her.

“The one thing Becky did tell me was to appreciate this moment,” Horan continued. “Appreciate wearing the captain’s armband if I get the chance, appreciate being able to lead this team and take in every single bit of that because it does not come around a lot and you being able to have this role, it’s the most incredible thing in the world.”

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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