Lauren Holiday may be the best women’s soccer player in the world. Consider that our opinion, one that may seem provocative. But the reason our stance sticks out says more about how women’s soccer is covered than anything Holiday does on the field.
You know Alex Morgan, an undoubtedly stellar talent. Abby Wambach, Hope Solo? Yeah, they have their #brands, too, as does Marta, who remains undeniably intriguing. But how much have you seen any of these players in action since London 2012? Unless you’re a women’s soccer diehard, the answer’s surely “not enough.”
That is the fog Lauren Holiday (née, Cheney) is trying to break through. Or, better put, she’s string to pass, create, and score through. In 2013, she was clearly the best player in the nascent National Women’s Soccer League, and while her end-to-end performance didn’t meet that standard last season, her place as the NWSL’s best was assured this past postseason, when she led FC Kansas City to the title.
It’s only been two years (and, for Holiday, 39 games), but she is the league’s all-time leader in both goals (19) and assists (16). She is the player you’d want to build your team around …
… which makes her the best in North America, but what does that mean in the bigger picture? Does it make her the best in the world, especially once you consider international soccer? That’s where the debate starts. When she’s at her best, Holiday’s performances are just as influential as Marta’s, if even more domineering. She maintains a far greater control of the game than a sniper like Lotta Schelin while offering a versatility that distinguishes her from Germany’s Nadine Keßler or Lena Goeßling. It’s difficult for a predominantly wide player like Japan’s Nahomi Kawasumi to match the game-defining presence Holiday imposes on a match.
Unfortunately for Holiday, versatility comes with a price: neglect from a public eye that has little time for a more nuanced talent. Coming out of college, she looked like a target striker. At Germany 2011, Pia Sundhage used her on the left wing. Since, she’s often playing in central midfield for her country, though she’s now being cast as a regista — as if playing the world’s best number 10 out of position is something that makes sense on any level.
To her credit, Holiday is up for the challenge. Unfortunately, that willingness will keep her from getting the attention she deserves. She won’t put up Wambach’s numbers. She doesn’t get the celebrating camera time of Morgan. She has too far to go to catch Marta’s celebrity. She may be the best in the world, but that world leaves her overshadowed.
Not by us, though. Greatness is great, no matter the guise, and while U.S. head coach Jill Ellis may miss the virtues Vlatko Andonovski has leveraged in Kansas City, Holiday is the same player, regardless.
Married to an NBA star (oh, did we forget to mention that) …
… with as affable a personality as you’ll find among the U.S.’s mainstays, Holiday is deserving of much more.
If those talents are allowed to shine through at next summer’s World Cup, she’ll no longer need these types of introductions.
The Fake numbers
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