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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Portland's midfielder from Colorado proves to be key in NWSL team's offense

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Lindsey Horan, a 23-year-old Colorado native, has been a key instigator of offense this season for the Portland Thorns.Lindsey Horan did not score against Sky Blue FC on Saturday as the Portland Thorns fell to the visitors from New Jersey.

Well, actually, she did put the ball in the goal in front of 16,736 fans at Providence Park, but was ruled to be offside on what would have been her third goal in two games.

Still, the 23-year-old Colorado native proved to be a handful for Sky Blue — even after a trip to Europe with the U.S. national team messed with her body clock.

In her attacking midfield role, Horan was credited with four shots in addition to the one that didn't count, and she forced Sky Blue keeper Kailen Sheridan to make a save on a second-half header off a long feed by defender Emily Menges.

As the most forward of Portland's midfielders, Horan is right at home. That was evident on June 3, when she scored both goals in the Thorns' 2-0 win at Sky Blue — an effort that earned her National Women's Soccer League player of the week honors for Week 7.

The first of those goals was an athletic flying header off a free kick from Nadia Nadim, the second a flick of her right foot from 5 yards in front of the goal.

Horan's instincts as a forward make her a unique player in the attacking midfield spot, a position often known for playmakers who do their best work around the 18-yard box rather than inside of it.

"When I was a kid, I was always a No. 9. I was a forward. Then I kind of adapted to the center-mid role," she says. "Now I'm playing as a 10 (attacking central midfielder) and that's one of my favorite positions. I love to be higher up the field and getting in the box and trying to impact the game by scoring or getting assists."

Thorns coach Mark Parsons loves what he has seen from Horan, who missed all of preseason with a hip flexor injury but has started each of the Thorns' first nine matches. After Horan scored the two goals against Sky Blue, Parsons predicted her best is in front of her.

"What we've seen in the last (few) weeks from her is what we saw last year, which is a center midfielder that can control a game, that can win a game, that can take over," Parsons said on June 3.

Horan arrived in Portland last year after four seasons with Paris Saint-Germain, the club she joined instead of playing college soccer for North Carolina.

"My time overseas was incredible. It was a cool experience," Horan says. "And now coming (to the NWSL) it's such a different style of play. It's a different kind of league, how we play, how physical it is, how aggressive."

Saturday's loss to Sky Blue, while disappointing, was an example of what Horan enjoys about the NWSL — the challenge of a league where every team has elite players.

She scored five goals in 15 games last season. The two she scored on June 3 were her only goals so far in 2017, but her two second-half header chances in the loss to Sky Blue show the timing is there. Besides, it appeared Horan was legally onside for the goal that was disallowed.

A hip flexor injury suffered in March playing for the United States in the She Believes Cup meant missing the Thorns' preseason. 

"At the beginning (of the season), it was very difficult for me just because I hadn't been in the team and it's hard to learn just from the sideline. Once you get back in the mix, that's when you really are adapting," Horan says.

"I think every game it's getting better and better for me and our team is performing better."

Fatigue a factor

They wouldn't use it as an excuse, but it is reasonable to expect the travel to Norway and Sweden for national team games impacted Thorns players Horan, Allie Long and Megan Klingenberg. All three played in the United States' 1-0 wins at Sweden on June 8 and at Norway on June 11. They were back in Portland for two days of training ahead of the June 17 Sky Blue match.

"For all of us, internationals that were overseas and coming back, it was a little difficult. We had four, five days to get our time clock back. I have to admit it wasn't the easiest thing to do," Horan says. "I think jet lag is always harder coming back (from Europe).

"But we always have to be professional and try to perform to the best that we can. Every single girl that was overseas had to do it, so you can't really complain about it."

With so many international level players, the Thorns are often more impacted by international breaks than are some NWSL teams. For Sky Blue, only defender Kelley O'Hara was with the USA in Scandinavia.

Still, Parsons and Sinclair downplayed the impact of international travel on Saturday's outcome.

"We've all been through it before. We're all professionals," says Sinclair, whose Canadian team played a pair of home matches during the recent international window. "Mark and our staff, they do a really good job of easing us back in, making sure we feel fresh. So I don't think we can use that as an excuse."

Sinclair, who scored Portland's goal against Sky Blue, had a goal and three assists for Canada in two wins over Costa Rica during the international break. She now has 168 international goals and 51 assists in 259 appearances for Canada.

Sykes debut

Australian forward Ashleigh Skykes played about 30 minutes on the right wing as a substitute for Mallory Weber in the loss to Sky Blue. It was her Thorns debut, following the completion of the league season in Australia.

Parsons says he wished Sykes had seen more touches of the ball during her time on the field, noting she created one dangerous chance with her dribbling skill.

"The next two, three weeks are a time for her to adjust and get up to speed, and I think we'll see her full throttle and she'll be an exciting player for us," Parsons says.

Where they stand

With four wins, two losses and three ties, the Thorns are fourth in the NWSL, with 15 points in nine matches.

They trail North Carolina (21 points), Chicago (17) and Sky Blue (16).

Next three

Portland at Washington, 4 p.m. Saturday at Boyds, Maryland.

FC Kansas City at Portland, 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 28 at Providence Park

Portland at Seattle, 7:30 .m. Saturday, July 1 at Memorial Stadium

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