Home News Carli Lloyd Previews...

Carli Lloyd Previews 2012 Olympic Qualifying

Jan. 09, 2012, 11:09 a.m. (ET)

The US women’s soccer team has one chance to earn the right to compete in the 2012 London Olympics, and it begins next Friday at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver, Canada. The two teams that make it to the January 29 final will be Olympic bound; the rest will stay home.

One of the key players is expected to be midfielder Carli Lloyd of Delran, New Jersey. The Rutgers alum gained fame in the 2008 Olympic final when she scored the game-winning goal in overtime to beat Brazil and clinch the gold medal for the US. She also played in the past two World Cups, where the US finished second and third. 

Lloyd took a moment to explain why this Olympic qualifier will be different, how her role on the team has changed, and which moment resonates more: her gold-medal shot in 2008, or her missed penalty kick in the 2011 World Cup final against Japan.


The Olympic qualifying tournament will be played at the BC Place, the indoor arena that hosted the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Have you ever played a major soccer tournament indoors?

It’s going to be interesting because it’s indoors AND on turf. I don’t think I’ve ever played a major event on turf.


What are the pros and cons of playing on turf?

The speed of play is definitely faster. And on turf, you don’t really have that true bounce or true lie. If you strike a pass on the ground, it’s going to skip and roll fast. So we’re going to have to be conscious about our passing. On turf, you want to play more to feet. If you play to a space, the ball starts rolling out of bounds.


How will the turf affect you specifically, in your position and given your skills?

I’m used to playing on a fast surface. I play a lot on an indoor basketball court when I’m home on break. It’s too cold in New Jersey to train outside in the winter, so I go to a facility that’s pretty much a rubber court. Your touch has to be perfect on a surface like that. Your pass has to be a little more precise. I feel pretty confident that turf’s not going to matter too much to me.


What about the team as a whole? Has coach Pia Sundhage taken you through specific drills to make sure you’re effective on that surface?  


We haven’t really been emphasizing [it]. In L.A., we’ll spend a couple sessions on turf at the Home Depot Center, just to get used to it before we leave for Vancouver. I think we’re all going to be fine. It might just take us older players a little longer to recover. Turf’s just tough on the body.


“Older players?” But you’re only –

I’m 29.


Who’s the oldest?

[Defender Christie] Rampone is 36. I broke my left ankle in 2010 during a [Women’s Professional Soccer] game, playing for Sky Blue. I was out for a good five to six months. So after I play on turf, it feels a little weird from the constant pounding. It’s a super-hard surface. But we’ll be fine.  


Which teams in the qualifier do you expect to be tough?

Canada’s always strong and they’re hosting so I think they’re going to have a lot of momentum. They have a new coach and changed things up a bit. We’re playing the Dominican Republic for the first time ever. Guatemala and Mexico are also in our group, and they’re not going to be easy. Mexico’s still a great team. All the teams are going to be a battle.


How is the US team shaping up?

All the World Cup players are back. It’s going to be tough, though, because there’s only 18 [players per team] allowed at the Olympics, but we’re able to bring 20 to qualifying. It’ll be interesting.


How does the pressure of an Olympic qualifying tournament compare to other major tournaments like the Olympics and World Cup?

I think it was a bit of an eye opener when we didn’t qualify right off the bat for the World Cup– when we lost to Mexico. It taught us that we can’t take things for granted. What everyone’s witnessing is that so many teams are catching up to us. On any given day, it’s anybody’s game. Only the top two teams [from the CONCACAF tournament] get to go [to the 2012 Olympics]. There’s not 2½ spots like there were in the World Cup. If we don’t make it past this stage, we would not have another game.


You’ve scored some major goals under pressure– including the winner in overtime in the 2008 Olympic gold-medal game against Brazil. Do you still replay it in your head?

It’s funny because those moments happen when you least expect it. My first World Cup experience [in 2007] didn’t go the way that I’d wished, so the Olympics were big for me. We had a new coach, Pia. She believed in me; she gave me opportunity. I embraced it. I worked hard. It was one of the most exciting moments of my career, and it was a great team win. When I look back, it feels ages ago. I’m SUCH a different player now.


How are you a different player?

I’m leaner, fitter, stronger, smarter – everything from top to bottom is so different – and my role has changed. In 2008, ‘Boxxy’ [Shannon Boxx] and I had a good relationship next to one another. If one of us went forward, the other one covered. It was an equal responsibility: both attack and defending. After the Olympics, Pia really wanted to get me higher up on the field and closer to the goal. Now I can roam, I can go wide, I can get into the box. It’s a much freer role – which I love because I’m an attacking player. And I’m much more fit so I can do that. I wouldn’t have really been able to do that in 2008.


Three years later, at the 2011 World Cup – you scored a big goal against Columbia in group play and had a big moment in the penalty-kick shootout against Japan in the final, but missed. Which situation do you think was more significant?

It’s always exciting to score your first World Cup goal. Not many people can say they accomplished that. Yeah, people may say: Oh, she missed the PK. For me, that was one percent of it. I look at the other 99 percent of everything that I accomplished. I was covering a lot of ground. I was on the end of most of the build-ups and a lot of the goals. I was really proud of what I accomplished. In the final game were all confident, but it was super-hard to have two PK shootouts in a major tournament. [The quarterfinal against Brazil also came down to a shootout.] It’s hard. Your mind plays tricks on you. Should you change your spot?  Should you NOT change your spot? I was gonna go to the same spot [as my penalty shot against Brazil in the quarters, which went in]. When our first kicker [Shannon Boxx] missed, I started to get a little nervous. When I stepped up, I wanted to hit it with more pace. My body was leaning back, just an inch too much – and the margin of error was the ball over the top of the net. After I hit that PK, obviously I was devastated but I was still holding my head high.


If you could do it again, would you still aim for the same spot? Or just change your body angle?

I think my run-up was a little weird. I’ve watched it a couple of times. I kinda stuttered in the beginning. But hey – I’m sure if I had to do it all over again and take 10 penalty kicks, 10 out of the 10 would go in. It was just a fluke. That’s the cruelness of the game sometimes.


What’s it like playing on a team where some characters have been developed through the media or advertising, like Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, or Alex Morgan. What do you make of the dynamic where it’s very much a team effort, but some people end up being more recognized that others?

I think in every sport, the media and everybody gravitates toward certain people. Abby scored some great goals [at the World Cup]. Hope saved PKs and did awesome. Alex came in off the bench and scored a couple goals as well. I think the American public gravitates toward goals and saves. It’s been great for the growth of soccer. People recognize our team now. We’re selling out games. And when we’re all together, everyone’s equal.


Do people still recognize you from your Olympic-winning goal?

In an Olympics, you’re competing against Michael Phelps and track stars and so many other people. I came home and people recognized me, but it wasn’t to the extent of this past World Cup. The World Cup is all soccer, and that’s all we’re competing against [for attention]. Everyone was going crazy about what we accomplished there. It’s just funny because we didn’t win. It’s all about timing. Had I scored that goal this past World Cup, things would probably be totally different.  But hopefully we’ll qualify, get another gold medal, and keep it going.


Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.