There were a lot of conclusions drawn at the end of the Portland Thorns’ disappointing NWSL Challenge Cup run. Those conclusions became significantly more positive after the Thorns were crowned Verizon Community Shield Champions in the Fall Series. Portland went from scoring the second fewest goals in the Challenge Cup to scoring the second most goals in the Fall Series.
The Thorns as a whole were much better in the Fall Series and able to capitalize on the opportunities they created. Christine Sinclair got into better positions and was as clinical as ever while Sophia Smith, Rocky Rodriguez, Simone Charley and Lindsey Horan added a goal each.
Much was made about the transformation of the Thorns between the two 2020 competitions, but there was one constant: Lindsey Horan. Horan is the key to the Portland Thorns and she is so consistently great that sometimes we forget to mention how dominant she can be.
In the NWSL Challenge Cup, Horan played four games but had to be subbed off twice, struggling with injury throughout the competition. In the quarterfinals, she was forced to come off and was not fit to play in the semifinal against the Houston Dash when the Thorns were eliminated.
Despite the injury issues, she looked like the Thorns’ only consistent offensive threat during the Challenge Cup. The Thorns only scored three goals during the tournament. Horan contributed one after nine shots with six on target. It was a spectacular diving header that gave the Thorns the lead against the Washington Spirit.
We all know that she is not just a scoring threat. She is also an amazing facilitator. Horan finished with a passing accuracy of 79.3%. She also completed 12 successful long passes at 75% accuracy. Her ability to switch the point of attack with her long passes is a highly underrated characteristic and something that is crucial to Portland’s possession-based attack.
Almost everything the Thorns did ran through the World Cup winner. She was making 43.6 passes per 90 minutes and her distribution chart reveals how instrumental she was in moving the Thorns forward. Most of her passes went towards the goal. Almost 35% of her passes were forward, about a quarter were to the left, about a quarter were to the right, and less than 16% were backward. Horan also completed five key passes, although none resulted in assists.
Horan was also a steady defensive presence. She made 12 clearances, two blocks and four interceptions while also attempting a ridiculous 77 duels. She won 42.9% of them.
There is nothing that really demonstrated how integral the Colorado-native was to the Thorns throughout the cup as much as Mike Donovan’s tweet. The tweet listed “what stats Lindsey Horan led the Thorns in” in the Portland Thorns’ match against the Spirit. Well, let’s just say she led in a lot.
Today's edition of "what stats Lindsey Horan led the Thorns in" for #PORvWAS— Mike Donovan (@TheMikeDonovan) July 6, 2020
Goals, Shots, Shots on Goal, Chances Created, Passes, Completed Passes, Duels, Duels won, Aerial Duels, Aerial Duels won & Fouls earned #BAONPDX
Horan recovered from her injury leading into the Fall Series and was slotted right back into the starting line-up. In fact, she played every minute of all four matches and was everywhere for the Thorns defensively.
Horan made eight clearances, six interceptions and 52.9% of her attempted tackles. She again made an absurd 85 duels and 60 aerial duels, winning those at a rate of 54.1% and 60% respectively.
The midfielder was also very involved in the Thorns’ circulation of possession. Horan completed 14 long passes, but made far fewer forward passes. Only 27.1% of her passes were forward, but they were far more efficient and clinical. Horan completed two crosses and made a staggering seven key passes, three of which resulted in assists. She finished tied for second in assists in the Fall Series only behind Kristie Mewis, who had five assists. Finally, seven of her 13 shots were on target and she scored one goal.
We often take Horan’s performances for granted. She is so consistent that we come to expect greatness every time she takes the pitch. But it is important to recognize and dissect what makes her one of the most influential midfielders in the world. It is obvious she is a top midfielder and the Thorns would be a much different team if they did not have Horan bossing both sides of the ball in their midfield.
Statistics obtained at https://www.nwslsoccer.com/stats