Horan angling for starting spot: Three thoughts from the USWNT's win over New Zealand

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The 23-year-old midfielder made an instant impact off the bench, recording a goal and an assist as the U.S. national team triumphed 5-0 in Cincinnati

It looks like Jill Ellis has finally found the right spot for Lindsey Horan.

First the U.S. national team coach developed Horan as a defensive midfielder, hoping the Colorado native could fill the void left by Lauren Holiday's retirement following the Women's World Cup. While Horan's raw talent was apparent, she was a square peg in a round hole.

Limited to one start at the 2016 Olympics, Horan began getting minutes up top — a role the 23-year-old has extensively played in the past. But leaving her mark there proved difficult amid a crowded stable of word-class strikers.

So Ellis gave Horan an opportunity in an advanced midfield role for the Americans' friendly against New Zealand on Friday. The Portland Thorns star responded with a promising performance in the 3-1 win — and that, it turned out, was just a glimpse of what Horan could do in her preferred position.

Coming on for Rose Lavelle in the 33rd minute as the U.S. faced New Zealand again Tuesday, Horan needed just three minutes to break the deadlock in Cincinnati. As Samantha Mewis lobbed a hopeful ball into the box, Horan saw goalkeeper Erin Nayler lingering off her line and sent a looping 15-yard header into the back of the net.

While that sequence showcased her physicality, Horan put her vision and technical class on display with an inch-perfect through ball to tee up Mallory Pugh's strike just before halftime.

Yes, the U.S. ultimately coasted to a 5-0 victory. But it was the introduction of Horan that got the Americans on the board and opened up the game — setting the stage for the second-half onslaught.

With Julie Ertz turning in another standout performance in defensive midfield, Horan had the freedom to be a difference-maker in the final third. When the match called for route one soccer, she offered an additional outlet in the box. As the U.S. opted for more fluid possession, she had the skill to efficiently keep the ball moving.

Wherever Horan needed to be, she delivered.

Here are two more takeaways from the Americans' win over New Zealand at Nippert Stadium:


Morgan's spot up top is safe


Alex Morgan Mallory Pugh USWNT

Alex Morgan has been on fire for the Orlando Pride since returning from her loan with French side Lyon, scoring nine goals in 11 NWSL matches. But it had been an underwhelming year for the 28-year-old on the international level, with Morgan netting just her second goal of 2017 in Friday's win.

Her fine form on the club level truly carried over to the U.S. on Tuesday, with Morgan bagging the Americans' third goal within seconds of her halftime entrance. And she capped the scoring in the 69th minute, ripping an exquisite finish in off the crossbar to complete her brace.

It's a performance that should, for now, put to rest concerns about Morgan's productivity. To boot, Christen Press didn't find much of a rhythm while getting the start up top. Although the Chicago Red Stars striker is enjoying a strong NWSL season of her own (10 goals), that's an audition she'll want back.


Williams makes the most of opportunity


Lynn Williams USWNT

Having locked down a starting spot for the SheBelieves Cup, Lynn Williams has since slipped down the depth chart — making just three appearances off the bench since that tournament in March.

But the 24-year-old logged the entire second half Tuesday and rewarded Ellis' faith with an energetic outing, heading home a Kelley O'Hara cross in the 55th minute.

That strike capped a sequence that began with an industrious run down the flank from Williams, who used her speed and work ethic to cause problems for New Zealand throughout her 45 minutes. The U.S. striker corps remains competitive, but Williams showed Ellis why she shouldn't be lost in the shuffle.

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