PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Lauren Holiday celebrated the final game of her career with another title.
The midfielder, who won the Women’s World Cup with the U.S. national team this summer, won a second straight National Women’s Soccer League championship with FC Kansas City on Thursday night.
Her good friend and teammate Amy Rodriguez scored on a header in the 78th minute, giving the Blues a 1-0 victory over the Seattle Reign.
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”It doesn’t get any better than this,” Holiday told the cheering crowd at Providence Park afterward.
Holiday announced plans to step away from the game in July, shortly after the United States won the World Cup, but she vowed to first finish out the season with her NWSL club.
Her final victory came in dramatic fashion: Rodriguez scored off a cross from Heather O’Reilly in the 78th minute.
Moments later, Holiday collapsed on the turf and a stretcher was brought on to the field. But Holiday, who has arrhythmia and later said she just needed to calm down, walked to the sideline on her own and eventually returned for the final minutes of her last competitive game.
When time ran out, she was mobbed by her teammates.
”When that clock was ticking down, I was thinking, `Just hold on. We can hold on a couple more minutes,”’ Holiday said afterward. ”And to win for club and country is absolutely the best feeling in the world.”
The Blues also played the Reign in the championship match last season, with Kansas City coming out on top 2-1.
Seattle was undefeated in nine straight matches going into the championship, without loss since July 18 at the Washington Spirit.
”We’re massively disappointed,” Reign coach Laura Harvey said. ”But we’ll learn from it.”
The Blues finished the regular season 9-6-5, with a roster that includes U.S. national team players Holiday, Rodriguez, O’Reilly and Becky Sauerbrunn. Those players missed a number of games because of the World Cup in Canada.
Kansas City had a league-high 10 shutouts this season, including the final, and allowed opponents an average of just one goal per game. The Blues defeated the Chicago Red Stars in the semifinals to advance.
This was the Blues’ third straight appearance in the postseason: The Portland Thorns won the league’s inaugural championship in 2013.
The Reign finished with the league’s best regular season record (13-3-4) and defeated the Washington Spirit 3-0 to earn a spot in the title game. Seattle’s roster includes national team players Megan Rapinoe and goalkeeper Hope Solo.
The Reign had their first chance in the 20th minute, when Kim Little’s shot off a feed from Rapinoe was blocked by Kansas City goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.
Rapinoe had another shot from some 25 yards out in the 63rd minute that was out of Barnhart’s reach but hit the post and sailed away from the goal.
Holiday, an Indianapolis native and UCLA product, has scored 24 goals in 130 games with the U.S. team since making her senior debut in January 2007. She won gold in Beijing and London while playing a steady midfield role for the American team.
She was the NWSL’s Player of the Year in 2013. Also known by her maiden name Cheney, Holiday is married to Jrue Holiday, a fellow Bruin who is currently playing for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.
”So many relationships that I’ve built along the way, from the time I was 16,” she said afterward, eyeing Rodriguez. ”I’m pretty sure we met when we were 16 years old. Those relationships, they last a lifetime. The winning is absolutely wonderful, but the friendships are what I’m going to cherish the most. And that’s what I’m going to take away, and that’s what I’m going to miss, for sure.”
On Wednesday, the NWSL and Nike announced an extended sponsorship deal through 2019. The agreement lends credibility to the league, which is wrapping up its third season. No other women’s professional soccer league in the United States has played into a fourth year.
The match, for the first time held at a neutral site, drew 13,264 fans to Providence Park. The stadium is home to the NWSL’s Thorns, which by far led the league in attendance with an average of over 15,000 fans per match.
Before the championship match there was a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting earlier Thursday at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, about 175 miles south of Portland.
Fans also affixed a heart-shaped banner about the players’ field interest that simply said ”Roseburg” with the image of a single rose.