On and Off the Pitch, Passion Defines USWNT Icon Lauren Cheney Holiday
If we learned anything about Lauren Holiday during a star-studded and championship-laden career, it was to never underestimate her ability, energy and passion.
Holiday, probably better known to many in the U.S. Soccer community as Lauren Cheney before she got married, could make things happen in many ways.
She was one of the most versatile players in the world. Holiday could play several roles, whether it was scoring goals as a forward or a winger, setting up teammates as an attacking midfielder or demonstrating her all-around skills as a deep-lying playmaker.
After overcoming a physical hardship as a child, Holiday won a world championship, earned two Olympic gold medals and pulled off a rare double seven years apart, being named U.S. Soccer Young Player Athlete of the Year and Female Player of the Year.
With FC Kansas City, Holiday celebrated back-to-back National Women’s Soccer League titles. The 5-8 dynamo also won NWSL MVP and Golden Boot honors in 2013.
After reaching the top of the soccer world, she decided to retire at the top of her game at the age of 27 in 2015 to start a family and dedicate herself to causes important to her.
Holiday will be bestowed with another honor when she is inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, Texas, on May 6, 2023. She was elected on the Player Ballot. At 35, Holiday will be one of the youngest individuals to be inducted.
Perhaps no one appreciated Holiday more than former USWNT head coach Jill Ellis, who coached her at UCLA and with the national side.
When Holiday was inducted into the Indiana Soccer Hall of Fame in 2019, Ellis told IndianaSoccer.org that she was “possibly the best soccer player ever to come out of Indiana and one of the best-ever to come out of the Midwest. She surely has earned a place among all the world-class players who have played for the United States.”
Passion drove Holiday as a player.
“We don’t play for the game. We don’t play for the money,” she told The Indianapolis Star in 2019. “We play because we were a little girl once who had a dream and we wanted to play on that National Team. We wanted to go to the Olympics or World Cup.
“It’s important for kids to know that someone once believed in me, and I believe in them. I hope that they follow and pursue everything they dream of.”
Born on Sept. 30, 1987, Holiday underwent an operation to repair a heart condition when she was 3. It was an atrial septal defect, a hole between two chambers in her heart. A pulmonary artery was rerouted. It left a 10-inch scar that runs vertically along her sternum.
Holiday wouldn’t wear T-shirts that made the scar visible until high school. “I was embarrassed about it,” she told USSoccer.com. “My mom said I could I have plastic surgery at the end of junior high, but she also said it was unique, so I never did it. I had just gotten tired of people asking me about, but now I don’t care at all.”
“At one time in our lives, we thought she was gone,” her father, George Cheney, told The Star in 2008. “We had a lot of fear that we were going to lose her because of her heart problem.
“She never looked back. She’s got more heart than anyone I know.”
In so many ways.
“I could possibly have been the most hell-raising kid that hospital has ever seen,” Holiday told USSoccer.com in 2006.
Nurses tried to give her a liquid anesthesia before surgery, but she tried to postpone it by running around a couch. Eventually, she relented. They wanted her to sit in a little red wagon so they could take her down to the cafeteria. She put a Teddy Bear that she was given after the operation in the wagon and pulled it herself.
“My parents, after surgery, they put my little tricycle up so I couldn’t ride it,” she said. “They told my brother and sister to be very careful with me. I never have been very gentle or calm, so my brother and sister would play with me, and I wanted to do everything that I did before. I remember a squirt-gun fight and getting my stitches wet and my parents not being happy about that.”
After watching her older brother play soccer, Holiday knew what she wanted. She competed against boys in youth soccer until she was 13.
While starring for Ben Davis High School, where she also played basketball, Holiday earned countless honors. That included 2004 Metro player of the year, Parade All-American, Gatorade Player of the Year and United Soccer Coaches (then National Soccer Coaches Association of America) All-American three times. She collected 118 goals and 67 assists.
In 2006, Holiday graduated from high school and played for the U.S. at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Russia. The Americans lost to China in the semifinals and to Brazil in penalty kicks in the third-place match.
Holiday decided to go west to attend UCLA. She was a First-Team All-American four times and NSCAA freshman of the year in 2006 while leading the Pac-10 with 19 goals. As a sophomore, Holiday was the MAC Hermann Trophy runner-up. She set school career records for goals (71), game-winning goals (28), assists (31) and points (173) while reaching four consecutive NCAA Division I tournaments. She also was the 2007 U.S. Soccer’s Young Female Player of the Year.
Whether it was for club or country, Holiday soared to new heights.
While at UCLA, she was called into the USWNT for the 2008 Beijing Olympics to replace an injured Abby Wambach. Holiday played three matches as a substitute as the Americans earned the gold.
After helping the Pali Blues to the 2009 W-League championship, Holiday was chosen by the Boston Breakers as the second overall pick of the 2010 Women's Professional Soccer draft. She scored in the WPS All-Star game.
Holiday started all six matches at the 2011 World Cup in Germany, collecting two goals and a team-high three assists. The Americans lost to Japan in the final in penalties.
Holiday continued her dominance in the 2012 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament with a team-best seven assists before playing every game at the London Summer Games as the U.S. won another gold.
When the NWSL was formed in 2013, Holiday was allocated to FC Kansas City. Though KC lost in the playoff semifinals, Holiday won the Golden Boot (scoring 12 goals) and was named league MVP.
That year was more significant for Lauren. She married future NBA star Jrue Holiday, whom she met at UCLA. Jrue, a point guard, has played for the Philadelphia 76ers, New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks, helping lead the Bucks to the 2021 NBA title.
“I like watching the way my wife plays,” Jrue told SI.com in 2014. “She gets people the ball where they want it and makes people look good. She’s kind of like a field general.”
Like her husband, Lauren could be compared to a point guard.
“We definitely want to get the people around us involved,” Lauren told SI. “I’m not going to dribble past 11 people up field. I have to combine with my teammates. And his game is very similar to that.”
She added a goal in the NWSL semifinals. In a 2-1 win against Seattle Reign FC in the final, she set up the second goal with a wonderful assist that could not have been better choreographed. After weaving her around several defenders on the right side of the box, Holiday dished off a pass to Amy Rodriguez, who scored.
“I don’t know if I have the words to express what kind of player she is,” current U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski told the Kansas City Star when he was head coach of KC in 2015. “She’s a magician. … All the players around her, she makes them better.”
Holiday also was voted the U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year.
In 2015, Holiday went out in a flourish, celebrating the Americans’ first world championship in 16 years. She scored the third goal, her 24th in 133 international appearances, in the middle of Carli Lloyd’s 16-minute hat-trick during a 5-2 triumph over Japan in the final.
Then she dropped the mic.
“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 told SI.com a day later. “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.”
During an emotional ceremony later in 2015, Holiday became the first NWSL player to have her number (12) retired.
“One of my greatest pleasures in life has been to have Lauren as a teammate and a best friend,” Rodriguez told the Kansas City crowd before hugging Holiday. “Not only is she a great player on the field, she is a better friend to all of us up here and so many soccer players in the nation. ... It’s been a pleasure of my life all to play with this girl.”
Quite appropriately, Holiday’s career ended with another championship — the NWSL title — as KC defeated Seattle, 1-0, in Portland, Ore. After the final whistle, Holiday’s teammates bolted toward the middle of the field to give her a hug.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” she told OregonLive.com. “I couldn't have written a better script. This is absolutely incredible. To win for club and country is a dream come true.”
Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe, a USWNT teammate, had mixed feelings about Holiday’s decision to hang ’em up.
“It’s sad to see her go, especially at such a young age,” she told OregonLive.com “Selfishly, I want her to keep on playing. She’s such a fantastic player, one of the best players I’ve ever played against and played with.”
After retiring, Holiday faced another difficult health issue. While she was pregnant with her daughter Jrue Tyler in 2016, Holiday was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. It was removed, but it was a major surgery with a lengthy recovery.
“I have never quite known suffering like I experienced the last 6 months,” Holiday wrote on Instagram. “I can remember countless nights repeating ‘There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.’ I remember half believing it and half still in disbelief that this was my life.”
In 2020, she gave birth to a son, Hendrix.
As we have learned, never underestimate Lauren Holiday’s abilities, energy and passion.