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Lindsey Horan navigates honor and burden of USWNT captaincy

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(Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images)

Lindsey Horan feels the weight of the captain’s armband as she prepares for her second World Cup with the U.S. women’s national team.

The 29-year-old midfielder had served as co-captain to veteran defender Becky Sauerbrunn over the last few years, taking up the armband when Sauerbrunn was not on the field. But Sauerbrunn is missing the World Cup with a foot injury, and Horan will serve in her stead.

While Horan and Alex Morgan are co-captains for the tournament, Horan will wear the armband when both are on the pitch at the same time. And she will aim to live up to the example set by Sauerbrunn, whom she called her “role model and inspiration.”

When Horan took the captain’s armband in place of Sauerbrunn before this World Cup, Sauerbrunn would put the armband on Horan’s sleeve. The physical manifestation of the passing of the torch stands out in Horan’s memory as she steps forward without Sauerbrunn by her side.

“We had this mutual respect. And I wanted to make her proud and get the same respect that that she’s gotten as a captain,” she told USWNT teammate Kelley O’Hara.

Sauerbrunn’s absence from the World Cup roster came as a “massive shock” to Horan. The reality of the situation hit even harder as she began to consider the impact on the team and her role within it.

“Oh my gosh, what is going to happen?” said Horan, describing her racing thoughts at the time. “How does this change our team dynamic? Who’s going to step up into this responsibility? Is that going to be me?”

Even as Sauerbrunn dealt with her own heartbreak over missing what would have been her fourth World Cup, she leant her support to Horan.

“She gets to lead this team out at a World Cup and to really appreciate what that means, in the course of your career,” Sauerbrunn said on the Snacks podcast. “Like, that’s such a crazy, cool accomplishment.”

The USWNT opens its World Cup run at 9 p.m. ET Friday against Vietnam. And Horan is stepping into her new responsibility as the team trains in New Zealand.

“Last World Cup, a lot of my focus was, I need to be at my very best. Everything I do is mentally preparing for Lindsey to be at her best to help her team,” she said. “And now it’s like, I need to help everyone be at their best — support them, advise, get the team together…

“So much changes, but (it’s) also a very cool thing to be able to take on that responsibility and get to experience this. And I will have a lot of great people that get to help me along the way.”

As for the type of captain Horan wants to be, she plans to model herself after Sauerbrunn, “leading by example” on and off the pitch.

“Becky, I don’t think you’re going to hear her voice a lot. But body language, the way she acts, the way she respects everyone — she is such a good human being, and she is always doing the right thing, but maybe isn’t the most outspoken person that I know. She is a completely different leader. I think I’m more of that kind of person.”