PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The National Women’s Soccer League championship game symbolizes both an end and a beginning for Lauren Holiday.
The 28-year-old midfielder for FC Kansas City is retiring from soccer following the title game Thursday night against the Seattle Reign.
Holiday announced plans to step away from the game in July, shortly after winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup with the U.S. national team. But she vowed to first finish out the season with her NWSL club.
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”I feel like I’m more focused on the excitement and just playing in the final, you don’t get to play in that many of those. It’s truly exhilarating,” she said. ”I haven’t really focused on the emotional side of things.”
Holiday was also on the Kansas City team that won the NWSL championship last season, a 2-1 victory over the Reign in Seattle. This is the Blues’ third straight appearance in the postseason: The Portland Thorns won the league’s inaugural championship in 2013.
Despite being absent for stretches because of the World Cup in Canada this summer, Holiday has two goals and two assists for Kansas City, which went 9-6-5 this season. Fellow national team players Amy Rodriguez and Becky Sauerbrunn are also on the Blues’ roster.
Kansas City had a league-high nine shutouts this season and was the top defensive side, allowing opponents an average of just one goal per game. The Blues defeated the Chicago Red Stars in the semifinals to advance.
The Reign (13-3-4) finished with the league’s best record 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.
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.
Some of the Kansas City players said they hoped to send Holiday out with a victory.
”I’m super happy for her, she’s obviously ready to transition to the next chapter in her life and I wish her all the best,” Sauerbrunn said.
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.
”I don’t think that I’m done with soccer, like that I don’t love the game anymore, that I’m not passionate. It’s more so that there’s other things I want to do,” Holiday said. ”Soccer consumes me. I’m not a player that can turn it off. I’m not a player that can say, `I’m going to focus on something else this month.’ … There are other passions that I have that I want to explore.”
Earlier Wednesday, 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.
Merritt Paulson, owner of the NWSL’s Thorns and Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers, announced that some 12,000 tickets had been sold for the final, which will make it the league’s best-attended championship match.
The title game was moved this season to a neutral site, in this case Providence Park, home of the Thorns.
The Thorns drew the league’s top attendance for the third straight year, far surpassing the other eight NWSL teams by some 15,000 fans per game.