It’s easy to say that something is a challenge. Not much in athletics is easy. There are no simple roads to dominance.
But for U.S. midfielder Lauren Holiday, the road to international success has been as intricate and challenging as open heart surgery; literally.
Holiday, who will return to the USWNT lineup after missing the quarterfinal due to yellow card accumulation, underwent open heart surgery when she was just three years old. During her post-op recovery it was difficult for doctors to slow Holiday down, to keep her sitting still. Not much has changed now.
Holiday is one of the most dynamic players on the U.S. roster, a player who can create opportunities for herself and her teammates with unparalleled success. Now, the two-time Olympic gold medalist is hoping to use that dynamic play to her advantage, looking to book her ticket to the World Cup final with a matchup against Germany in Tuesday’s semi.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Started Playing Soccer After Watching Her Brother
Holiday, who was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, started playing soccer at an early age, essentially a second shadow of her older brother’s. In fact, she played on the boys teams until she was 12, following Aaron from soccer field to soccer field, always with a ball at her feet.
He described a young-Holiday to US Soccer:
One of the other kids caught a pass and she was right there. She put her shoulder in his gut, put him on his back. She was never afraid of anything. I knew she’d always be okay – she was never going to have any trouble taking on any challenge thrown at her.
But while Holiday got her soccer-start in her backyard, her career truly sparked at the high school level, playing for Ben Davis High School. She was named Metro Player of the Year by the Indianapolis Star in 2004 and, in 2006, was a Parade All-American and the Gatorade Player of the Year.
Holiday finished her high school career with 118 goals and 67 assists, graduating ahead of schedule in 2006 to train with the United States U-20 team.
2. Holiday Played Her College Soccer at UCLA
Holiday joined the Bruins in 2006 and immediately made her presence known. She was named an NSCAA Freshman of the Year that fall and led the Pac-10 with 19 goals. For good measure, Holiday also set a freshman record with a goals-per-game percentage of 95.
As a sophomore, Holiday was runner-up for the Hermann Trophy and the Pac-10 Player of the Year, scoring 23 goals and breaking the UCLA single-season record with 57 points.
By the time Holiday graduated, she had, essentially, rewritten the UCLA record books. She set program records for points (173) and game-winning goals (28) and tied the record for career goals with 71. Her 31 career assists were the second-best number in program history.
3. She Joined the USWNT in 2007 – Against Germany
Holiday made her first appearance for the senior USWNT on January 26, 2007, taking on Germany. She followed up her debut by notching her first international goal, against Mexico, and finished her inaugural season by being named the 2007 U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year.
She competed in the 2008 Olympics, after Abby Wambach was forced to withdraw with a broken leg, but it wasn’t until 2010 that her start truly started to skyrocket. Holiday was the second-leading scorer that year, notching seven goals in 13 matches. In 2012, Holiday led the USWNT with seven assists in five games at the Olympic qualifier and followed up with five starts in six games during the London games.
Coming into 2015, Holiday had 114 international caps to her name with 23 goals scored and 31 assists. During the 2015 World Cup, Holiday was second on the USWNT with eight chances created and 64 touches in the attacking third. She and fellow midfielder Megan Rapinoe missed the quarterfinal match against China after accumulating too many yellow cards.
4. She Married Jrue Holiday, an NBA Point Guard, in 2013
The pair met while they were both student-athletes at UCLA and first started dating in 2008. They were married on July 7, 2013. Jrue, who played basketball for the Bruins, is a current point guard for the New Orleans Pelicans.
The wedding was a mix of the sports worlds, with many of Jrue’s former Philadelphia 76’ers teammates in attendance as well as a handful of Lauren’s USWNT teammates. Holiday, who also plays professionally for FC Kansas City, was forced to miss play for the wedding, but the team didn’t seem to mind, tweeting out its support:
Holiday has called her marriage, “neutral territory,” a space where neither athlete has to focus on their respective sport and can instead simply focus on each other. Although there is still a little bit of competition. The wedding dress rehearsal BBQ morphed into a pickup basketball game between guests.
5. Holiday Said She Uses the World Cup to ‘Share the Gospel’
While Holdiay’s career on the field may have ebbed and flowed over the past few years, she has found that there is one constant she has depended on; her faith.
Holiday’s first introduction to Christianity came when she played with the U.S. U-20 team, a group coached by former pro and youth coach Tim Schulz. It was through Schulz that Holiday first connected with religion, fascinated by the way her coach lived his life. It did not take long for Holiday to devote herself, and the way she played, to her faith.
She told the Fellowship of Christian Athletes:
I know I wasn’t given these talents to be mediocre. God has blessed me abundantly with the ability to play soccer – the world’s game. Every time I step foot on the field, I know that, through my effort and play, I’m glorifying Him. He gave me the world’s stage to share His gospel and that is what I hope I do.
Holiday has regularly worked with FCA, a group that sponsors young athletes to grow both physically and spiritually. Lee Steckel, President and CEO of the organization, said Holiday exemplifies the best aspects of a Christian athlete.