Three years ago Lauren Holiday (then Lauren Cheney) said she was looking forward to playing in Kansas City for a coaching staff she knew little about. She embraced the opportunity to be put in an uncomfortable situation in her soccer career. Now as season three winds down and Holiday prepares to walk away from the game, she believes the experience made her a better player.
“It completely changed my career,” Holiday said after FC Kansas City’s regular season finale, a 3-2 win at Sky Blue. “To have a coach that believes in you as much as Vlatko (Andonovski) believes in me, it’s transforming for your confidence.”
Holiday was already a fixture on the national team when NWSL launched, but she used the league as a springboard to become a certain starter in Jill Ellis’ midfield. She was MVP of the league in 2013 while balancing her summer marriage, and she was MVP of the 2014 final thanks in part to a dazzling sequence that led to the second of two goals on the day.
“Playing in Kansas City reignited my love for the game and my confidence and it helped me do better on the national team and just overall helped me enjoy the game,” she said. Much of the credit, Holiday said, goes to Andonovski and his staff for creating the right environment and installing an effective system that has become a hallmark for the only club to reach the playoffs all three NWSL seasons.
“He created the team. He created a team that all played very similar, and I think that’s what’s made us so special these past few years. They’re absolutely a joy to work for. They’re all very family oriented and it really does feel like a family.”
This season was a bit of a challenge for the FC Kansas City family. Jenna Richmond and Nikki Phillips elected to sit out the season, Kassey Kallman was traded, and the continuity of the team was difficult to build thanks to the World Cup interruption. Andonovski said each time the personnel shifted it took a few weeks to get back on track.
“It’s weird because we (the national team players) don’t know them as well as we have the last two seasons. We were gone for so much of it,” Holiday said. “But the second we came back it felt comfortable. Everyone is so welcoming.
“This team is super resilient. I don’t think that they’ve had all the results. They’ve come through a lot. We’ve come together these last few games and we’ve played pretty well. Hopefully we can keep that momentum into the playoffs.”
Holiday might sound like a player already referring to her team in the past tense, but the fact is that her impact on the team figures to be felt for years to come. And not just for the hardware from the 2014 playoffs. Before her home finale, teammates gushed about how Holiday included everyone as equals and helped build the family atmosphere she gave so much credit to the coaching staff for.
Asked what she might leave behind at FC Kansas City, Holiday said: “Just the culture of how we treat each other. We were talking about it on the bench. Not every team is like this in NWSL, but our team for sure we don’t really yell at each other, we don’t get down, we stay super positive. That is so cool. If someone makes a mistake everyone is behind them. I think that we started that culture and I hope to leave it (behind).”
But before Holiday leaves anything there is the business of trying to win another championship.
“My mentality is if we make playoffs we better win it all. If we stay an extra month we better win it all.”
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