CHESTER, Pa. -- Shortly after scoring twice in Team USA’s biggest game of the year, Carli Lloyd admitted with a chuckle that maybe – just maybe – she hadn’t given 100 percent all the time when she was first starting out with U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team.
It’s easy to laugh about some of those moments now, as Lloyd is a 32-year-old veteran, one of Team USA’s most reliable players and on the verge of representing her country in the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the third time.
Team USA clinched a berth in the 2015 World Cup with Friday’s 3-0 victory over Mexico at PPL Park just outside Philadelphia. The Americans will take on Costa Rica in Sunday’s final of the CONCACAF Women’s Championship, when they will look to build off a dominant performance against Mexico.
“These are my moments – the big games,” said Lloyd. “As games go on, there are tired legs out there. There are players who are getting worn out. But I live for these moments. We needed to qualify. We needed an early goal. These are the moments I live for.”
Team USA outshot Mexico 20-1 overall, including an 8-0 edge in shots on goal, as the field was decidedly lopsided in favor of the U.S. women. The Americans are 4-0 in the tournament, outscoring their opponents 15-0 in qualifying for the Women’s World Cup for the seventh straight time – every year of its existence. Team USA is seeking its first World Cup title since 1999.
With the decisive victory, the United States avenged a loss to Mexico in the 2010 CONCACAF semifinals that forced Team USA to take on Italy in a home-and-home series just to qualify for the 2011 World Cup. That 2-1 setback vs. Mexico still stands as the American women’s only loss in 27 all-time games in this tournament.
“It was,” Lloyd said before hesitating for a second, “kind of hidden revenge (from 2011). We all knew what was at stake. We didn’t discuss it too much, since we’re really about looking forward at what we needed to do and focusing on ourselves. But it was an important game.”
Lloyd opened the scoring in the sixth minute, taking a cross from Tobin Heath and heading the ball past Mexican goalkeeper Pamela Tajonar. Her second tally, in the 30th minute, came on a penalty kick after Heath was taken down by a Mexico defender – a play which Abby Wambach acknowledged later on: “We probably got lucky on that call.”
The final U.S. goal came off the foot of Christen Press, who took a pass from Sydney Leroux, deked the Mexican goalkeeper and deposited the tally in the 56th minute.
“We’ve played well, but scoring goals is certainly good for your confidence,” said Team USA coach Jill Ellis, whose counterpart, Leo Cuellar, called the American women “awesome” and “outstanding” and added that “they could field two teams and both would finish in the top four or five of the World Cup.”
That, in many ways, is a credit to Ellis, who was appointed the team’s head coach on a permanent basis on May 16.
“We’re really buying into the way she wants us to play – the vision, the approach, the aggressiveness,” said Press, whose team is ranked No. 1 in the world and has been for the past five years. “We’re so excited to qualify for the World Cup, but we want to win Sunday, too.”
If the Americans had lost to Mexico on Friday, they still could have made the World Cup with a victory in Sunday’s third-place game. But after sweating out their berth to the previous World Cup, the thought of a tougher road to the 2015 event in Canada was not one that the American women wanted to entertain.
“It’s a big relief,” Lloyd said. “We can breathe now.”
“It’s exciting,” added Ellis, “but we’re not done yet. We want to continue getting better and better and getting ready for the World Cup.”