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The great Horan question: Who is next up in midfield for the USWNT?

Photo Copyright Daniela Porcelli | Joerdeli Photography

Over the course of the last year and a half, the United States women’s national team has managed to achieve one of the more difficult accomplishments in the modern game — playing free-flowing attacking soccer without sacrificing results on the scoresheet.

The Americans have compiled a 26-1-3 record and beaten eight teams ranked in FIFA’s top 10 along the way in a stretch dating back to late July 2017, following a loss to Australia. A handful of players have proven themselves key contributors during this run, including midfielder Lindsey Horan.

Last year, the U.S. went unbeaten and no one other than Alex Morgan started more matches than Horan. In her best form to date for both club and country, Horan earned 16 starts for the Americans, finished second on the team in assists and won the National Women’s Soccer League’s MVP award for her excellence on the club level.

However, as the U.S. enters this year’s SheBelieves Cup — and challenging matches against Japan, England and Brazil — the team will need to find a way to win without Horan, who is out with a leg injury.

At the top of the list among Horan’s potential replacements should be Sam Mewis, who started every game for the Americans in 2017, but fell down the depth chart in 2018 after dealing with a knee injury over the winter and spring.

Mewis was excellent in the spine of the midfield for a North Carolina Courage side that marched to a league championship, but that didn’t translate on the international stage; she started only two matches for the U.S. in 2018.

But from both her past performances for the U.S. and her club play, it’s obvious that Mewis has all the tools to successfully fill the role as the team’s No. 8 — wedged in between Julie Ertz in the No. 6 position and Rose Lavelle adding the creative flair as the team’s No. 10.

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In many ways, Mewis is a like-for-like replacement for Horan, which may have something to do with the former losing minutes last year. Mewis’ physical gifts provide steel in the American midfield; her strong aerial presence and tackling help the U.S. control the middle of the park. At the same time, her awareness, vision and technical ability allow her to split defenses apart with inch-perfect passes and perpetually threaten the opponent’s goal with her penchant for striking shots from distance.

While many have struggled to understand Mewis’ lack of minutes for the U.S. in 2018, she is the obvious and perfect replacement for Horan.

She also isn’t the only option for U.S. head coach Jill Ellis. Danielle Colaprico — despite usually playing her best soccer as a No. 6 — has proven herself to be more than capable as a No. 8 on the club level. For the first half of last season in Chicago, she played higher up in the Red Stars’ midfield and did the same this winter in Australia, helping lead Sydney FC to the W-League championship.

Colaprico is excellent in the air and strong in the challenge despite her diminutive frame. Her reading of the game is second-to-none and her offensive stats are surprisingly good: she finished ranked No. 1 in the entire NWSL in chances created last season.

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The other likely option to replace Horan in the American midfield is McCall Zerboni. After recovering from an elbow injury suffered against Chile in September, Zerboni returned to the U.S. for for January camp and made a 21-minute appearance as a reserve against Spain.

Zerboni is a late-comer to the national team picture at age 32, but her league play over the past few season has proven nothing short of phenomenal. Last year alone, she finished in the top three in the NWSL in tackles, interceptions and duels won.

Like Colaprico, Zerboni is most well-known for her play as a No. 6. However, Ellis has most often played the North Carolina midfielder as a No. 8. And no matter where she plays, Zerboni’s energy, work rate and vocal leadership are readily apparent.

The last option for Ellis would be Andi Sullivan. Sullivan didn’t see the field last month after joining camp late, but she apparently did enough to earn another look and make the SheBelieves Cup roster. This came as a surprise to many, even more so with the exclusion of 2015 World Cup star Morgan Brian.

Sullivan originally came into the fold with the U.S. in late 2016 after the team’s Olympic failure, and she immediately impressed. However, she then suffered a knee injury which caused her to miss much of 2017 and then toiled through an unspectacular rookie season with the unimpressive Washington Spirit.

Last year, Lindsey Horan’s form proved so strong that it evoked a number of running jokes among women’s soccer fans whenever she scored, including, “Who’s marking Horan?” and “Death. Taxes. Horan.”

And while replacing her in the U.S. lineup for the SheBelieves Cup will not be an easy task, Ellis does have several good options at her disposal, with Mewis being at the top of the list.

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