WASHINGTON — U.S. women’s national team midfielder Lauren Holiday and her husband, the NBA point guard Jrue Holiday, may play entirely different sports, but that doesn’t mean their playing styles have to be all that different from each other. Jrue is an All-Star for the New Orleans Pelicans, and if there was such a thing as a point guard in soccer, well, Lauren would be it.
“We definitely want to get the people around us involved,” says Lauren. “I’m not going to dribble past 11 people upfield. I have to combine with my teammates. And his game is very similar to that.”
Says Jrue: “I like watching the way my wife plays. She gets people the ball where they want it and makes people look good. She’s kind of like a field general.”
They started dating toward the end of their college careers at UCLA—she turned pro after graduation; he did after his freshman year—and they got married in 2013. When Jrue went to Germany to cheer on Lauren – then going by the surname Cheney – at the 2011 Women’s World Cup, he went all-in on the world’s game.
“He was never a soccer fan before, but now he and his entire family are,” says Lauren. “His brother wants to come to all the tournaments.”
Jrue has his own busy work schedule, of course, but barring an NBA Finals run he’ll be able to attend next summer’s Women’s World Cup in Canada. There, he’ll dress up in U.S. gear and cheer on the team just like all the rest of the players’ significant others.
“They call us the Soccer Wives,” he jokes. “There’s different types of people, but everyone is real nice and respectful, just good people to know.”
Lauren has an extra incentive to take care of qualifying this week for the World Cup and not be forced into an intercontinental playoff like the U.S. was four years ago. If the Americans qualify on Friday, she’ll have the entire month of November off and be able to see her husband more than the usual five to seven days a month they’re together when he’s in season.
For her part, Holiday has been enjoying a fantastic 2014. At this point, in fact, if there’s one American who ends up making the top three finalists for World Player of the Year, she would be the one. Holiday led Kansas City to the NWSL championship this year and produced one of my favorite highlights of 2014, her slaloming run that set-up Amy Rodriguez for the game-winning goal in the final.
“I remember grabbing her face and screaming: ‘You’re an angel!’” says Rodriguez, who credits “Auntie Lauren” with providing a few more assists keeping an eye on her 1-year-old son, Ryan, while they lived together in Kansas City this season.
“Her awareness on the field sets her apart from a lot of other midfielders in the world,” says Becky Sauerbrunn, Holiday’s U.S. and club teammate. “She just sees things, spaces and seams. And she’s got the technical ability to execute whatever she sees and have it happen. That’s really special. Some players may have the awareness but not the execution. She has both.”
That vision comes naturally to Holiday, who (truth be told) isn’t a hardcore soccer watcher but “just gets it” when it comes to seeing plays develop on the field, Sauerbrunn says.
So talented is Holiday at multiple positions that she has played all over the field for the U.S., first as a forward, later as a wide midfielder and central attacking midfielder, and these days as a holding midfielder under new coach Jill Ellis. Why would you put the best No. 10 in U.S. women’s soccer at the No. 6 position? Good question. But Ellis says she saw the need, and Holiday has embraced the role.
“The build-up was something that for me was an area I wanted us to improve on, being able to move the ball out of the back,” Ellis says. “At times we got pressure and didn’t have options, and we’d resort to a more vertical ball. Now I think we can build through [Holiday].” Ellis thinks Holiday can continue playmaking from her deeper-lying position and become one of the world’s best holding midfielders.
“I’m actually really enjoying the No. 6 role,” says the 27-year-old Holiday. “It’s a challenge for me, but it’s a fun challenge. I get to playmak from so much farther back. I get to see so many other things that at the No. 10 position you don’t see. Maybe my back’s to goal, but now I’m facing the whole field, and I can spray those balls wide. I’m actually having a good time learning the position.”
There are limits, however, to how many positions Holiday still wants to learn. When it’s pointed out to her that she keeps moving farther back on the field for the U.S., from forward to holding mid, she puts her foot down. “I am not going any farther back!” she jokes in mock anger.
In other words, goalkeeper Hope Solo’s job is safe. (For now, at least.) And Holiday can continue being the second point guard in her family.