The Netherlands' crucial mistake against USWNT? Making Lindsey Horan mad

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — By the time Daniëlle van de Donk poked the proverbial bear, American frustration had already been bubbling. Lindsey Horan felt it. Alex Morgan and other U.S. women’s national teamers felt it. They felt “elbows in the back here and there,” Morgan said, “and little other things” throughout their Thursday World Cup showdown with the Netherlands.

But it was van de Donk’s crunching tackle, in the 59th minute, charging and clattering into Horan, that inflamed the USWNT captain.

And “that,” Horan later said, “is where you get the best football from Lindsey. I don't think you ever wanna get me mad.”

She winced in pain during a two-minute injury stoppage, frustration now boiling, then returned to the field to rescue the USWNT in a 1-1 draw with the Dutch.

And according to just about everybody inside the Wellington Regional Stadium on Thursday, including Horan herself, the boiling blood and the equalizing goal were inextricably connected.

“That little tackle,” Horan said, before correcting herself — “big tackle — changed the [mentality] in my head.”

It came flying into her right leg near the left sideline, with the USWNT trailing 1-0 and its dominant aura fading. “It was just a duel on the sideline that I won,” van de Donk later said, and she had a point — she clipped the ball, and wasn’t whistled for a foul.

But Horan took offense. She trotted back onto the field for a U.S. corner, and almost immediately found van de Donk, her club teammate at Lyon. “I did not take it in a good way,” Horan said. “I got a little heated. And she got to hear it.”

They exchanged words and shoves. The referee then intervened and brought them together for a peacemaking conversation, which “wasn't really necessary,” van de Donk said. Horan agreed: “I don't know what [the referee] said. It was too long.”

But teammates could tell that Horan had been provoked; that something was brewing inside her.

“After the ref kind of pulled Lindsey and van de Donk aside, I felt like something was gonna happen,” Morgan said.

As Horan waved her arms, simultaneously pleading innocence to the ref and quarreling with van de Donk — and perhaps forgetting that a yellow card would trigger a suspension for the third group match — Julie Ertz stepped in to make sure that the “something” would be positive.

“Linds, please, just don't get another yellow card,” Ertz told her, according to Horan. “Just score this goal to shut everyone up.”

“And that,” Horan said, “is what happened.”

She darted toward the near post. Rose Lavelle put the corner “on a dime.” Horan, a menace in the air, rose above the Dutch defense to win the header and bring the U.S. level.

“She showed how she can flip a switch,” Trinity Rodman said. “She goes from trash talking to putting a ball in the back of the net.”

And not a single teammate was surprised. Neither was van de Donk.

“It's Lindsey,” van de Donk said. “I know she is like this.”

Horan knows van de Donk as well. They’ve shared a locker room and training pitch at Lyon, the French champion and multi-time European champion, since 2022. So Horan wasn’t shocked when the tackle flew in. “Dan is that type of player,” she later said. “When she's on my team, it's incredible, because she's gonna fight till the last second to win a game, or go into that last tackle. And that's what she did."

“Unfortunately I did not take it in a good way,” Horan added. But there were no hard feelings. They chatted and hugged on the field after the final whistle. They later posed for a selfie. Horan also tapped van de Donk on the hip as she completed her postgame media responsibilities, with van de Donk’s final interview ongoing. They both smiled. “Of course” they’re still friends, van de Donk said.

Because Horan hadn’t made their on-field confrontation personal. She’d made it fuel.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 27: Danielle Van De Donk of Netherlands and Lindsey Horan of USA take a photograph in the tunnel after the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group E match between USA and Netherlands at Wellington Regional Stadium on July 27, 2023 in Wellington / Te Whanganui-a-Tara, New Zealand. (Photo by Maja Hitij - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
Danielle van de Donk and Lindsey Horan take a photograph in the tunnel after their group stage match. (Photo by Maja Hitij - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

“Instead of crying about it, she just goes and makes a statement,” U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “And basically shows everyone the direction that the game is gonna take.”

That, he added, “is a really good example of the leader that she [is].”

She is not the most outspoken. She is not the most socially conscious or eloquent or excitable. But she wears the captain’s armband in Becky Sauerbrunn’s absence because, as Sophia Smith said last month, “Lindsey really leads by example. You know that every game, every practice, she's going to show up and give 110%, and she won't settle for less than that, and she expects the same thing from everyone around her. … And she just carries herself in such a professional way. And she's a winner.”

The armband hasn’t changed her. What it has done, Ertz said, is “elevated what she already does.” She has taken ownership of the team, on the field, with the ball at her feet or on her head.

So no, she did not need a crunching tackle to motivate her, to propel her toward Lavelle’s pinpoint cross and above the Dutch defense.

“You expect that from her 24/7. She's a world-class player,” Smith said, but then added: “I think her being frustrated was a little bit of extra energy.”

Netherlands' midfielder #10 Danielle van de Donk fights for the ball with USA's midfielder #10 Lindsey Horan during the Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women's World Cup Group E football match between the United States and the Netherlands at Wellington Stadium, also known as Sky Stadium, in Wellington on July 27, 2023. (Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP) (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)
This tackle by Netherlands midfielder Danielle van de Donk set USWNT co-captain Lindsey Horan off. (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)