Lauren Holiday Ready For Life After Soccer

Lauren Holiday is retiring at 27, on top of the world and ready to move on to life after soccer. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

The last name that apparently reveals something as to why Lauren Holiday is walking away from international soccer at 27 years old is also the name those closest to her in the sport never could condition themselves to use when talking about the midfielder.

Long after her marriage to Jrue Holiday, who plays for the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans, soccer teammates still refer to her by her maiden name of Cheney. No first name; just Cheney. Jill Ellis, the national team coach who more than a decade ago at UCLA nervously sweated out the college recruiting race for the Indianapolis product, still calls her Cheney - even did so when the player sat next to her on the interview dais during the World Cup. Her coach at FC Kansas City, Vlatko Andonovski, calls her that with his Macedonian accent. Former U.S. coach Tom Sermanni did the same with his Scottish accent.

On the soccer field, she was always Cheney, not Holiday, no matter what the jersey said.

From what Holiday said with regard to her decision, specifically that it was a long time coming and is about "a new chapter" and the opportunity to "choose my family," it sounds like she is ready to be Holiday for a bit.

Good for her, if that's the case. If that is what she seeks after almost a decade traveling the globe with the national team, after 130 appearances and 24 goals culminated with a World Cup trophy, then good for her.

And too bad for the sport.

Soccer will miss her. The United States national team will miss her.

Even if she took a backseat, to some degree literally, to midfield partner Carli Lloyd as the United States won its first World Cup in 16 years, Holiday is one of the best players in the world. That label is very much in the present tense. It's difficult, in fact, to think of a recent American player who left the international scene more squarely in her peak.

Cindy Parlow was a prolific goal scorer for the United States until she retired at 28 years old, but her decision was related to concussion-related issues. The last player prior to Morgan Brian to win the Hermann Trophy more than once, former Notre Dame star Kerri Hanks ceased playing competitively not long after she finished in South Bend. Yet her quiet exit came during a period without a domestic professional league, and Hanks never had a presence on the senior national team. For that matter, plenty of players in the talent pool one step below the national team are forced to give up the game before their bodies demand it, often before they even reach their athletic peak, because of repeated injuries or, more often, the meager financial reality of the professional world here and overseas.

None of that applies to Holiday. It's just time to go. Maybe forever, at least for now.

In addition to starting every game in which she was eligible in the World Cup, Holiday was the inaugural MVP of National Women's Soccer League in 2013 and one of the driving forces behind FC Kansas City's championship a season ago as an unstoppable presence in postseason wins against Portland Thorns FC and Seattle Reign FC.

She rarely got to show off those skills with the national team, at least in its most recent iterations, but she willingly played the role asked of her. What 20-plus million people saw from Lloyd in the final is the same kind of influence on a game that far fewer people saw, but those who did appreciated no less, from Holiday time and again in other settings.

"I love playing the 10," Holiday said during World Cup qualifying of the shorthand name for the role that Lloyd starred in Sunday. "I think that's where I'm probably most comfortable, and that's where I feel the most free, not having to think. ... I think that will be my favorite position forever. I think that's me; that's where I love to play."

It would have been interesting to see how Ellis managed her midfield assets over the next four years. Lloyd made it clear in the aftermath of the World Cup win that, at least for now, she wants to be a part of the team that defends the title in 2019 (as well as the team that defends Olympic gold next summer). But while no one will bet against her based on current form and her maniacal training focus, she will still be 37 years old in 2019, older by a year than even Kristine Lilly was as a starter in the ill-fated 2007 World Cup.

Brian was fantastic in a defensive midfield role during the final three games of the World Cup, but that isn't her natural position any more than for Holiday or Lloyd. At some point, Brian will need some of the same freedom Lloyd regained as the World Cup progressed. This presumably speeds up that timetable. That, in turn, could create room on the roster for a young attacking midfielder like Vanessa DiBernardo or Samantha Mewis to gain needed training experience as soon as the buildup to next summer's Olympics.

Holiday had to be on the field for the national team, even if it meant shoehorning her in a position not entirely a natural fit. But her departure could also open the door for a tried and true holding midfielder to see the field for the United States for the first time in quite some time, someone like Seattle's Keelin Winters or Portland's Allie Long.

There is time to read the tea leaves on all of that in the months ahead. We knew as soon as the whistle blew Sunday in Vancouver that the team that next represented the United States in a major tournament wouldn't look exactly the same. Few expected a player in the prime of her career to be the first domino to fall in the chain reaction.

It's easy to attach meaning in retrospect, and it's not as if smiles were in short supply for any of the members of the national team when they gathered for a television appearance in downtown Vancouver on Monday. But with the knowledge of Holiday's decision, the image of her playing with Amy Rodriguez's 2-year-old son stands out. Holiday and Rodriguez are not just teammates for club and country, but longtime close friends. And Holiday saw her friend give up a place on the national team and, for a time, the sport itself.

"Seeing her with a kid is so cool," Holiday said after FC Kansas City won the title in September. "It's so much cooler than seeing her on the soccer field. She's a phenomenal mom; she's caring and understanding. And I think her perspective has changed. Soccer used to be such a huge part of her life, and now she knows she gets to come home to her son. No matter what the result is, that trumps everything."

Saying Tuesday that she is choosing to focus on her family does not necessarily mean Holiday will be adding to hers, but the principle is the same. There is another world out there to explore.

Holiday is among the very fortunate few in women's sports, able to achieve her lifelong dreams, maximize her athletic potential and choose the moment of her own departure.

At least for now. Everyone is entitled to a change of mind.

But it seems we have seen the last of Cheney, which makes the afterglow of a marvelous day just a little bittersweet.