Most athletes dream of going out on top of their respective sports. But, inevitably, as age sets in, even the world’s greatest athletes tend to lose their edge as they exit their prime. This summer, however, has turned out to be quite the perfectly scripted final chapter of FC Kansas City and U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Lauren Holiday’s professional soccer career.
In the days following the USWNT’s historic third World Cup championship in July — it avenged its heartbreaking, penalty-kick loss to Japan in the 2011 final with a 5-2 win — soccer fans wondered what the future held for the team’s most veteran players. But the first retirement announcement came from then 27-year-old Holiday. After a decade with the USWNT, during which the team won a World Cup and two Olympic gold medals, Holiday said the time has come for her to focus her attention more toward her family — she is married to New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday — and pursuing other interests.
On Thursday, in Holiday’s last club game for FC Kansas City, the Blues won their second consecutive National Women’s Soccer League title with a 1-0 victory over the Seattle Reign FC in Portland. The game was a rematch of last year’s final. Fittingly, it was Holiday who kickstarted the scoring play in the 78th minute with a pass out to longtime USWNT teammate Heather O’Reilly, whose well-placed cross into the box was headed past Reign and USWNT goalkeeper Hope Solo by USWNT forward Amy Rodriguez. Holiday and Rodriguez are good friends and FC Kansas City roommates when on the road.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Holiday told the crowd of 13,264 at Providence Park in an interview not the field after the game. “I couldn’t have written a better script. This is absolutely incredible. To win for club and country is a dream come true.”
While Holiday, who was named the NWSL’s Most Valuable Player in 2013, has been one of the lesser-known players on a national team that includes household names like Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Solo, her contributions to the success of women’s soccer in America are undeniable. Aside from the tangible 24 goals she’s tallied in 130 international appearances, her versatility has enabled her to assume a variety of roles, from forward at the beginning of her career to holding midfielder, more recently. And her impact extends outside the lines of the soccer field as well.
“I think her legacy lives far beyond the soccer field,” Rodriguez said in a post-championship press conference on Thursday. “We all know she’s an excellent soccer player, she’s proven that so many years in a row. She’s been a starter on the U.S. Women’s National Team, she’s won numerous championships, gold medals, assists and goals, and the list goes on. For me, my relationship with her is much deeper than soccer. With the world, I think they can see a sparkle in her that reaches beyond the soccer field as well. I’ve just been so fortunate to get to know her and have her in my life and I plan to keep her in my life for quite a while.”
Holiday, who has said she would like to start a family at some point, is scheduled to finish out the USWNT’s 10-game victory tour. In the first four games, the U.S. has notched a pair of wins over each Costa Rica and Haiti. It is scheduled to face Brazil on Oct. 21 and 25, in Seattle and Orlando, respectively.
Though Holiday’s professional playing career is winding down, she is likely to remain involved in the sport at some level in the future. The Blues plan to retire Holiday’s jersey, No. 12.
“Absolutely [I might coach],” Holiday told SI.com’s Grant Wahl earlier this summer. “Whatever I can do to help. Whatever I can do to continue having women’s soccer and sports in America continue to grow, I will do. My passion is people and helping people.”
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Spark Sports Analyst