Lauren Holiday wins USA’s Female Athlete of the Year honors

Lauren Holiday was named the US Soccer 2014 Female Athlete of the Year on Saturday, capping a year in which the UCLA graduate won the National Women’s Soccer League with FC Kansas City, and was reinvented as a deep-lying playmaker on the national team.

Under head coach Jill Ellis, Holiday (neé Cheney), who had been United States Soccer’s Young Female Athlete of the Year in 2007, was repositioned from her regular spot as a central attacking midfielder — although she had played everywhere else in the attack as well — into a much deeper midfield role this year. She found great success there, underpinning a tandem of Carli Lloyd and an attacking midfielder. In so doing, she solved a long-standing problem of how to succeed the aging Shannon Boxx at the base of the midfield.

For those efforts, which were considerable during Women’s World Cup qualifying in October, she was named the player of the year.

The other candidates had been forwards Abby Wambach, Sydney Leroux and Christen Press and Lloyd. Wambach, however, had known injury trouble and was slow to regain her fitness. Leroux suffered through an extended crisis in form. Press’s ascent within the team was rapid, as was her ability to alter the course of games. She was deserving of recognition.

So was Lloyd, whose performance over the last year or two has proved her to be one of the best players in the world, and certainly its most underrated. Yet Holiday was a worthy recipient. She restored a balance to the American team that had gone missing for a while. At once, she shielded the defense with her savvy positioning, and started up the offense by distributing tidily from deep on the field.

Her contributions, as is often the case with holding midfielders, went largely unrecognized during the year. But she now has an award to show for it.