Veteran FC Kansas City midfielder Lauren Holiday spent her 28th birthday like many before them, surrounded by teammates and playing the game she has grown to love.
This time, however, will be the last birthday of its kind as she plans to retire after tomorrow’s National Women’s Soccer League championship in Portland. The Blues will face Seattle Reign FC for the second straight season with a chance to become the league’s first two-time champion.
The game will start at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Providence Park and will be shown on Fox Sports 1.
“It’s a testament to this organization, this team and the girls,” Holiday said. “They put together a great group of girls, who mesh well and play the same way. I think their vision has led to the place we are at. When you watch us, you can see that.”
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Knowing she would be announcing her retirement at the end of the year, Holiday mapped out a perfect final year that included a National Women’s Soccer League championship with the Blues, a 2015 Women’s World Cup title with the U.S. Women’s National Team and a peaceful retirement with her husband Jrue, a New Orleans Pelicans point guard.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist has already accomplished the first two and even had her jersey retired by the Blues, so she decided to add another step. She wants to help FC Kansas City become the league’s first two-time champion and go out with another ring.
Holiday has been one of the driving forces that helped the Blues become the only team to make the playoffs in all three seasons. Three-time NWSL defender of the year Becky Sauerbrunn, iron woman Leigh Ann Robinson, 2013 goalkeeper of the year Nicole Barnhart and Jen Buczkowski are among the others. Buczkowski is the only player that has started all 66 regular season games in the league’s history.
Then there are the high profile additions like Amy LePeilbet and the national team duo of Amy Rodriguez and Heather O’Reilly.
Rodriguez has a team-high six goals despite only playing 11 of the team’s 20 games so far.
“She can change a game on a dime and that is what she has done in three postseason games with five goals,” Blues coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “That’s pretty incredible and four of them were assisted by Lauren (Holiday). That says a lot about Amy and Cheney and who they are when the big games are on the line.”
She is coming off her second two-goal playoff performance in the Blues’ 3-0 victory against the Chicago Red Stars. She also scored two goals in the championship game last season.
Seattle brings plenty of power to the table as well with national teamers Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe leading the way.
The two teams combined to take six spots in the NWSL Best XI and another seven in the second XI. FC Kansas City’s LePeilbet and Sauerbrunn were selected to the first team with Seattle’s Lauren Barnes, Jess Fishlock, Kim Little and Beverly Yanez. Barnhart, Robinson and Holiday represented the Blues on the second team and Stephanie Cox, Kendall Fletcher, Keelin Winters and Rapinoe made second team for Reign FC.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Andonovski said. “I am very thankful that I am part of an organization like FC Kansas City with a chance to compete for a championship the second year in a row.”
WHO: FC Kansas City vs. Seattle Reign FC
WHEN/WHERE: 8:30 tonight in Portland
TV: Fox Sports 1