Thursday, July 9, 2015

Lauren Holiday

You don't have to read this blog much to be able to determine my favorite USWNT player. Two days after winning the Women's World Cup, that player announced she would be retiring from the National Team at the ripe old age of 27. While I appreciate Lauren Holiday's desire to devote more time to her family, I'm certainly going to miss watching her play in the biggest soccer games on the world's stage. I've talked about her in the past on some of my other blogs, so I thought I would take the opportunity to include portions of them here and update and expand on them.

Lauren attended the same high school that I attended, though more than a decade behind me. I'm proud of my high school soccer program and its recent successes that were built on the foundation that was laid during the time frame around my high school career. There wasn't even a girls team until my sophomore year and the boys team was basically a club team until my freshman year.
The program has come a long way since those days. They have been ranked in the state, they have had regional, sectional, and county success, and are starting to get players recruited by major universities. They have a game field and a usable practice field, a concession stand, a press box, team locker rooms, and lights (mere pipe dreams when I attended; our practice field had the occasional 2- to 3-inch diameter rocks and definitely none of those other items).

By far, the most decorated soccer player to ever come out of my high school has been Lauren ('05), who I was fortunate to watch a couple of times when she was there. I had heard the talk about her and I have to say, she was good even back then.  In high school, there are wide gaps between the good players and every one else and she clearly stuck out.  That gap narrows at the college level, and it narrows even further at the international level.  Yet, every time I see her with the ball, I think she has the ability to do good things with it.  She seems to make good decisions most of the time and doesn't force too much. Obviously, I can see a much more mature player in her now than when I saw here over a decade ago.  By the time Lauren graduated, she had helped take the girls' team to semi state, was all-everything locally, was a Consensus #1 recruit, Parade All-American, the Gatorade National Player of the Year, and the NSCAA/Adidas National Youth and High School Player of the Year. Not bad.

We've all grown accustomed to seeing her become one of the best midfielders in the world. Routinely described as the best #10 on the United States team, and by extension, the world.  Yeah, that's not just my opinion. Just 9 months ago, the Soccer Gods 25 placed her at #11, saying, "Lauren Holiday may be the best women’s soccer player in the world."  Adding later:
Unfortunately for Holiday, versatility comes with a price: neglect from a public eye that has little time for a more nuanced talent. Coming out of college, she looked like a target striker. At Germany 2011, Pia Sundhage used her on the left wing. Since, she’s often playing in central midfield for her country, though she’s now being cast as a regista — as if playing the world’s best number 10 out of position is something that makes sense on any level.

To her credit, Holiday is up for the challenge. Unfortunately, that willingness will keep her from getting the attention she deserves. She won’t put up Wambach’s numbers. She doesn’t get the celebrating camera time of Morgan. She has too far to go to catch Marta’s celebrity. She may be the best in the world, but that world leaves her overshadowed.

Not by us, though. Greatness is great, no matter the guise, and while U.S. head coach Jill Ellis may miss the virtues Vlatko Andonovski has leveraged in Kansas City, Holiday is the same player, regardless.
"Coming out of college, she looked like a target striker..."  Holiday went to UCLA and in the words of her bio on the UCLA site, "enjoyed one of the finest freshman seasons in UCLA history". She earned individual honors of first-team NSCAA/Adidas All-America, first team Pac-10, Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, and SoccerBuzz Freshman of the Year. Then she proceeded in her sophomore season to be named SoccerBuzz Player of the Year as UCLA went to the semi-finals of the college cup, Pac-10 Player of the Year, Soccer America's National Player of the Year, U.S. Soccer's Young Female Athlete of the Year, finalist (one of four) for that year's Honda Award recognizing the top soccer player in the nation, one of three finalists for the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy, and NSCAA/Adidas All-American. The accolades didn't stop there either as Holiday finished her college career as UCLA's:

  1. All-time points leader (a record she still holds)
  2. All-time leader in goals (a record she still holds)
  3. 2nd all-time in assists
  4. All-time leader in game-winning goals
  5. 2nd all-time in shots
  6. 2nd all-time in multiple goal games
  7. 2nd in NCAA tournament points
  8. 2nd in NCAA tournament goals
  9. All-time leader in NCAA tournament assists, and
  10. UCLA's only four-time first-team All-American

Her professional career has been just as stellar.  For her two assist effort in the game, Holiday was awarded last year's NWSL championship game MVP. Which should look nicely beside her league Golden Boot and MVP trophies from the 2013 season, as well as her back-to-back Best XI awards. Through the first two seasons of the NWSL "(and, for Holiday, 39 games), but she is the league’s all-time leader in both goals (19) and assists (16). She is the player you’d want to build your team around…"

Oh, and she's been a part of two Olympic gold medal winning teams for good measure.

I'm going to miss all of that, but I'm also going to miss watching her be the first one to celebrate with teammates after they score.  Catching them in her arms and embracing their triumphs. Sydney Leroux's reaction and sprint to Lauren after her goal in the 2012 Olympics is just one of dozens of times she's been the first one there to revel in their success.

I'm going to miss these three together...

I'm going to miss this.

I'm going to miss celebrating the best player to ever come out of my high school.

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