Lauren Holiday had her retirement planned long before Team USA won the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Nearly a year ago, on the eve of the National Women’s Soccer League championship game between Holiday’s FC Kansas City and the Seattle Reign, Holiday shared her intention with her coach, Vlatko Andonovski.
“We were talking soccer, life, a lot of things, and one thing she said was, ‘Coach, here’s the deal. We’re going to win the game tomorrow and the championship and then we’re going to win the World Cup and I’m going to retire,’” Andonovski recalled.
“I said, ‘If you do all of what you said, you have my blessing.’ I did not think it was unreal, but a little too much. (Ten) months later, she’s achieved it all.”
While many Team USA observers were anticipating possible retirement announcements from veterans such as 35-year-old forward Abby Wambach and 38-year-old midfielder Shannon Boxx, Holiday’s recent announcement in the wake of the Women’s World Cup title took some by surprise. The midfielder played every minute in the tournament for Team USA except the quarterfinal, for which she was suspended.
“She’s leaving at the peak of her career,” said Fox soccer commentator and former U.S. coach Tony DiCicco, who managed Holiday when both were at the Boston Breakers in the defunct Women’s Professional Soccer league. “She was the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year last year. I’ve coached her, she’s awesome.”
But at 27, after eight years with Team USA, two Olympic gold medals, an NWSL championship and now a Women’s World Cup title, Holiday feels it is time to step away. She’ll complete the current NWSL season but then bronze her cleats.
“It’s a huge commitment (to play with the national team),” she told TeamUSA.org. “It’s an incredible privilege, but it’s a ton of work.
“We’re (with the national team) 260 days a year, then on top of that our club. It’s a tremendous sacrifice. Family in general, my marriage; I’d love to see my husband more. I miss so many important things. At this point, I’m ready to enjoy those things with my family.”
Winning the Women’s World Cup didn’t factor into the decision, although it made making the announcement a little easier.
“It’s an incredible bonus,” Holiday said. “(God) knew the desires in my heart, so I’m blessed to go out on top.”
Even with a chance at another Olympic gold medal beckoning a year away, Holiday has made up her mind.
“I don’t think so,” she said when asked if she would come back. “I’m so confident in my decision. We won the World Cup. I’ve fulfilled everything.”
While Wambach has said this would be her last Women’s World Cup, she has not indicated how much longer she will continue, if there’s at least another Olympic run in her career. Boxx announced this weekend that she would retire after the season. The oldest player on the national team, defender Christie Rampone, 40, returned to her NWSL this weekend and hasn’t announced her national team plans.
If not surprised by Holiday’s announcement, DiCicco was startled by its speed and that she was the first. However, he clearly understands the process, having taken a similar path 16 years ago when he walked away as coach of Team USA following the United States’ last Women’s World Cup title.
“For me, I was away from my family too much,” he said. “I’d have loved to coach in the Olympics, but it was a ‘I need to make a decision now.’
“She feels she has to move on in life. Even though the Olympics are a great lure, she needed to make a decision now.”
Two years ago, Holiday, then Lauren Cheney, married Jrue Holiday, whom she met when both attended UCLA. Jrue Holiday is now a guard with the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. Lauren Holiday was non-committal about what lies ahead.
“Really my heart breaks for so many things,” she said. “I want to use time to explore, how to best serve the world. I don’t have a specific cause, what I focus on may be many things.”
Holiday, like many of her teammates, reported back to her “day job” with her respective NWSL club late last week. She will finish out the season and also be part of a 10-city “Victory Tour” beginning Aug. 16 in Pittsburgh when the team plays Costa Rica.
For her teammates, the half-dozen matches will allow Team USA to bask in the glow of a Women’s World Cup title. Holiday will get to use it to bathe in the glory of a championship-laden career.
“I feel like right now I have so much freedom,” she said. “I want to enjoy how many months I have left and celebrate my career. I feel I am extremely blessed.”
Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.