They departed Kansas City more than two months ago, ready to embark on a mission that hadn’t been accomplished since 1999.
They returned Saturday evening as four members of a team that earned the backing of an entire country. As names that will forever be recognized in women’s soccer.
As World Cup champions.
After helping the U.S. women’s national team win the World Cup earlier this month, Becky Sauerbrunn, Lauren Holiday, Heather O’Reilly and Amy Rodriguez rejoined FC Kansas City for an evening practice Saturday — two days before they shed the white, red and blue and turn their attention back to defending their National Women’s Soccer League title.
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Easier said than done, of course.
“I don’t feel like we’ve had time to settle down yet,” Rodriguez said. “We went from a hectic World Cup, which was a huge high, and now we’re just trying to get reintegrated back (into) our lives.”
They return to a much different life than the one they enjoyed over the past six weeks in Canada.
The U.S. women’s team was unbeaten en route to the World Cup championship, culminating in a 5-2 win against Japan in the final. Holiday, who announced her retirement from international soccer after the tournament, scored in the championship match, and Carli Lloyd pieced together a hat trick — all in the first 16 minutes.
They meet again — this time as opponents — on Monday. The Blues are scheduled to play the Houston Dash at 7 p.m. at Swope Soccer Village. The Dash boasts three national-team players, including Lloyd, who received the Golden Ball Trophy as the most valuable player in the World Cup.
“It’s always an interesting dynamic to play on the other side of your U.S. team colleagues, but we’re excited,” O’Reilly said. “We’re all competitive. We want to win the game on Monday. We want to make the playoffs and make a run at winning this thing this year and being back-to-back champions.
“Outside the lines, we’re all friends. Inside the line, we’re all competitors.”
After a five-match winless streak, the Blues have won two straight matches to move into fourth place in the league standings. To a player, the four national-team members talked Sunday about their drive to return to the NWSL final.
It’s one last chance for Holiday.
Her retirement announcement came in the initial week after the U.S. lifted the World Cup trophy (and as the team was in the midst of a celebration week that included a large gathering in Los Angeles and a ticker-tape parade in New York), but the decision was actually made long before the tournament.
Holiday said Sunday that she informed her teammates more than a year ago that she planned to retire.
“I felt like I had so much clarity this last year, just knowing that I felt comfortable with what I’ve done. I have other dreams. I have other goals,” Holiday said. “I was ready to move on from (soccer). It’s not an easy decision. It’s not going to be an easy transition, by any means. But I feel very confident and comfortable with my decision.”
Holiday initially planned to simultaneously retire from the NWSL, and she told FC Kansas City she didn’t plan to return for the final third of the season, but she changed her tune in March after talking with teammates. Instead, she will enjoy something of a farewell tour.
Afterward? That remains unknown.
Holiday is married to Jrue Holiday, who plays in the NBA for the New Orleans Pelicans. She cited the difficulty in matching the two “brutal schedules” as another reason to step away from the game.
“It’s hard to cultivate our relationship when our careers are so important to us,” Holiday said. “I don’t think people recognize that. It’s a privilege, obviously, but we choose these teams over funerals, weddings, everything. I think it becomes a balancing act. I felt like I had fulfilled everything I ever dreamed of in soccer. Now I’m ready to move on and fulfill other dreams and be present for my family.”