LOS ANGELES — Lauren Holiday has always been a player’s player for the U.S. national team, blessed with ball skills and vision and scoring instincts, and always the definition of the term classy. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that she announced her international retirement here on Tuesday with the same amount of class, just two days after she had scored in the U.S.’s 5-2 win over Japan in the World Cup final.
“To be honest, this isn’t something that happened overnight,” said Holiday, 27, who shed tears as she spoke, thought not, she said, tears of sadness. “This has been something I’ve prayed about for a couple years now. But my main goal was to win an NWSL championship and a World Cup, and I did it.”
“I know this is where I was supposed to be for so many years, and I know that I gave my all to soccer, to the sport, to this team,” she continued. “And I’m excited for a new chapter of my life. I feel like this team isn’t my identity, it’s my choice. I think there’s power in making a choice. I chose this team for 10 years, and now I’m going to choose my family.”
Holiday is married to Jrue Holiday, the point guard for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, and over the past several years they have only been able to see each other for only five to seven days a month when they’re both busy with work.
Holiday, who said she’s hoping to start a family at some point, said she’ll continue playing with her club team in Kansas City this year. “I’m going back to Kansas City for the rest of this season,” she said. “I just have so much respect for the organization, and I truly want the NWSL to succeed.”
It’s expected that Holiday will participate in the 10-game victory tour for the U.S. national team as well. She said both her club and national team were aware of her decision before she announced it on Tuesday in response to questions from reporters.
Her resume with the national team is an impressive one: One World Cup title, two Olympic gold medals, 130 caps and 24 goals.
What’s more, Holiday’s versatility was remarkable. She started her U.S. career as a forward but also played wide roles and eventually moved to a deep-lying playmaker position. Rarely did she ever get to play at the No. 10 spot, her natural position.
“She’s such a good soccer player, and she’s been asked to play in so many positions that weren’t necessarily her true position, but she’s still world-class at all those positions,” said Becky Sauerbrunn, Holiday’s teammate for club and country. “I think it takes a special person and a special soccer player to be able to do that. Just what she’s done for this team, she’s irreplaceable.
“I was secretly hoping she wasn’t going to retire. In my heart of hearts, I really hope that she does continue. But she’s sacrificed so much for this team, and she’s been on this team for so long, that I think she’s ready to kind of start the next chapter in her life. I’m proud of her for wanting to do that, and I wish her the utmost happiness. But I’m going to miss the hell out of her.”
On a U.S. team with players who are 40 (Christie Rampone), 38 (Shannon Boxx) and 35 (Abby Wambach), it may be surprising that the first post-World Cup retirement would be by the 27-year-old Holiday. But Holiday’s teammates have been aware for some time that she was considering retirement. Her family is in good shape financially, and from a competitive perspective she has achieved what she set out to do.
Holiday smiled through her tears when asked if she felt she was leaving the U.S. central midfield in good hands. “For sure,” she said. “I think the world of Morgan Brian. Obviously, Carli [Lloyd] is phenomenal. I’ve played with her for so many years, and she’s just an incredible talent. I think you guys are going to see a star in Morgan Brian. She’s unbelievable. She’s mature beyond her years on the field and sophisticated. I think you just saw a glimpse of what she can bring to a team. So I’m excited to see her grow the next four years.”
Holiday wasn’t always the most vocal of the U.S. players in the media, but she had an important role inside the team. It was Holiday who came up with the idea for the #SheBelieves campaign connecting the U.S. team to communities around the country. And Sauerbrunn said Holiday has a big influence speaking up for lesser-known players on both their club team and the national team.
“What she does for us is very subtle, and it can be very quiet,” Sauerbrunn said. “And I think a lot of things go on behind the scenes that people don’t realize how important she is to this team in what she brings. She’s kind of like Robin Hood in a way, because she fights for the players. When it comes down to little things like contracts or ‘Can we get a bus set up for a trip?’ or something like that, she’s the one that’s fighting for us. And it goes a long way.”
Before the World Cup final, Sauerbrunn said, the players spoke to each other and said this was probably going to be the last time these 23 U.S. players would be in the same room together getting ready to play a competitive game for the national team.
“So you kind of take that and try to cherish it,” Sauerbrunn said. “Because it is a very rare thing that we accomplished together. It’s sad that we’re kind of all these moving parts that are going to be separated now. So absolutely, we cherish these moments.”
Indeed, emotions were high in this hotel ballroom as the news spread that Holiday had announced that her time with the national team is coming to an end. But she also wanted to emphasize that she was looking forward to the next chapter of her life, one that will likely still include soccer to some degree.
Holiday said that future might involve coaching. “Absolutely,” she said. “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.”
That passion has come through loud and clear in Holiday’s exemplary national team career. And now she’s leaving on top. She’s a World Cup champion.