Lindsey Horan fell in love with soccer when she was just a kid. She loved watching Barcelona’s club and studying the great Lionel Messi as he dominated as a forward.
At 26, Horan is a midfielder for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and Portland Thorns Football Club. She’s also the first player to ever bypass college, a World Cup champion, League champion and National Women’s Soccer League MVP. In other words, now she’s the one dominating while young players watch her in awe.
The National Women’s Soccer League has been in the news quite a bit in the past few years, between the U.S.W.N.T.'s big win at the 2019 World Cup (their fourth), and their very public fight for equal pay.
“It’s a hard-fought battle, but we hope that it comes true in the years to come,” she tells PEOPLE.
In 2019, the U.S.W.N.T. sued U.S. Soccer under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The lawsuit has reached a standstill amid the pandemic, but the women are still fighting. A positive byproduct of the lawsuit is that it opened up a dialogue about pay equity and the disparity between women's salaries and the salaries of the Men’s National Team.
Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty
For women in sports, when sexism and misogyny isn’t occurring systemically, it is often occurring in the way we talk about how women play, how they celebrate, how they win and how they lose. Last year, when the National Team was playing in the World Cup, they were criticized in particular for the ways that they celebrated their triumphs.
Alex Morgan bore the brunt of it when, while playing against England, she scored a goal and celebrated by pretending to sip a cup of tea. A cheeky gesture that some people criticized as disrespectful.
Alex Morgan scores her first goal since the opening game and retakes the lead in the Golden Boot race (6 goals, 3 assists)— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 2, 2019
She's the first player in #FIFAWWC history to score on her birthday 🎂 pic.twitter.com/EGWBNIyaxI
It happened, too, while they played Thailand. The team scored 13 goals, winning in a shut-out victory that broke records. Horan was one of the players who scored a goal that day — her first on the National Team. The women were criticized for celebrating too much.
“It’s crazy to me that anyone would question what we were doing and I don’t think that would ever happen with men," she explains, adding, “We did a very good job of tuning it out and just doing our thing.”
This push and pull didn’t really exist in Horan’s world before. As she explains, “For me, being younger, all I did was train with guys and play with boy’s teams and I didn’t think much about that. But now being in the limelight, being with the National Team, and seeing all the things going on and the equality lawsuit and everything regarding that, opened my eyes to this thing that I didn’t know about because all I cared about was soccer.”
But now, in the middle of a lawsuit for pay parity, Horan has a new perspective.
Horan explains that, of course she supports the U.S. Men’s National Team and its players, but “we do the exact same work — if not more — we play the same amount of games, we prepare the same way and we’ve won multiple World Cups and they have not. It’s hard looking at that and not being bitter about it and upset. I know the players aren’t the ones to blame, but our federation in general, I can’t seem to understand the pay disparity among the two teams.”
She explains to PEOPLE, “It is incredible what we go through and it’s amazing that we have so many people supporting us and behind us. We hope we keep growing and keep fighting and that’s what our team has promised to do all along.”
In the coming years, aside from equal pay, Horan hopes that the sport continues to expand and create opportunities for young females. The new women’s team in Los Angeles, she says, is “huge” for the sport. The league recently awarded a group led by actress Natalie Portman the rights to form a franchise in Los Angeles.
“I think it’s absolutely amazing how many people have invested in this team,” Horan tells PEOPLE. “I hope that continues throughout the league and we get more people supporting us throughout the United States.”
The group of majority women founders includes venture capitalist Kara Nortman, OUYA founder Julie Uhrman, lead investor and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian (plus his daughter with Serena Williams, Alexis Olympia) and actresses Uzo Aduba, America Ferrera, Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria and Lilly Singh. Among others, a collection of more than one dozen former women's soccer players have also invested, including Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Lauren Cheney Holiday.
In the N.W.S.L., everything is up in the air, so the team continues to play a waiting game that is a mix of “hoping for the best” and “keeping our fingers crossed for the Olympics,” Horan explains.
For now, she has been finding time to work out and keeping a regimented diet and workout plan, as well as hiking and finding time to practice outdoors. She shouts out Quest Nutrition in particular, saying that among her regular routine are Quest bars and protein shakes that keep her in fighting shape.