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Lindsey Horan: USWNT rediscovering ‘joy’ at the World Cup

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USWNT captain Lindsey Horan warms up during World Cup training session on July 31. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The U.S. women’s national team is finding its joy again at the 2023 World Cup.

While the tournament has seen several top teams exit early – i.e., Brazil and Germany – the USWNT has advanced to the Round of 16, albeit by mere inches. And the team is celebrating its achievement and remaining focused under pressure.

It’s a whole new tournament. And according to Lynn Williams, she and her teammates are “not panicking.”

“I think that we haven’t played our best soccer yet, which is the most exciting part for us,” she said Thursday.

USWNT captain Lindsey Horan agreed,

“We’re gonna move forward, this is a new tournament starting now,” Horan said. “It’s the knockout stages, but it’s just that confidence, that belief in ourself to, one, do what we are most special at — each of us individually, but also as a team. And also just find the joy in it a little bit more.

“We love this game so much. We’re so passionate about this game, we want to win as much as possible and we want to play better. We all know that you guys know that our team knows that we want to play better and to find those little pieces of joy in the game as well. Once we get a little bit more of that joy back and that feeling, things are gonna move a little bit better on the field. We’re gonna have more rhythm, we’re gonna have more confidence and things will come, more and more chances will come.”

While players themselves have voiced concerns about the team’s ability to finish its chances, Williams still believes the team has what it takes.

“I don’t think (that ability) is gone. I think that we had opportunities, we had moments and it’s just capitalizing on them,” Williams said. “That’s the game of soccer. Sometimes it goes away, and sometimes it doesn’t. Of course we want to play better, but at the end of day, we’re still getting results.”

This USWNT team is younger than the last two World Cup teams. Of the 23 players on the roster, 14 are newcomers to the World Cup. Savannah DeMelo only made her first international appearance in July.

But that’s not an excuse – and the players still want to win the World Cup “so badly,” Williams said. So badly that at times, the desire can be detrimental to the team’s mentality. So retaining their joy is paramount to their success.

“Sometimes I think we lose track of why we started to play and why we’re here,” Williams said. “It’s because we love the game. We love absolutely playing and we love these moments on the world stage. That’s why we put our bodies through so much and sacrifice so much. It’s a lot of people’s first tournament, mine included, so you just want to go out there and perform so badly that sometimes you forget about all the joy and the reason why you started.”

Pressure “is a privilege,” according to Horan, and the team is facing a whole lot of it heading into their game against Sweden. After the USWNT’s 3-0 loss to Sweden at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and both teams’ relative group-stage performances, the USWNT could be considered an underdog.

So how can the USWNT players find their joy as they head into the next match?

“First of all, being joyful that we made it to the Round of 16 and not diminishing that accomplishment,” Williams said. “That was the name of the game the whole time, is (to) get out of the group stage. And that’s exactly what we did. Of course, like we said, we want to be playing better, but it doesn’t matter. Tournaments are about results, and we’re getting the results…

“It’s a lot of pressure, it feels like sometimes, but there’s a human side to that as well. And knowing that we can look at each other and say, I got your back. If you mess up, I’ll have your back. If you’re doing something great, I’m gonna cheer for you as if I’m doing something great. And we have come together as a team and have done that after being able to look at the last three games that we’ve just gone through.

“So I think it’s already been found.”