As Carli Lloyd prepared for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, she told her then fiancé to stay home and not travel to Canada for the tournament. Her single-minded focus was on her game, the tournament and winning a title the U.S. women’s soccer team had been unable to capture since its famous and much-celebrated 1999 triumph.
Four years later, married, title in hand and about to play in her fourth and what she admits is likely her final Women’s World Cup … “She’s worse,” teammate and fellow co-captain Megan Rapinoe humorously intoned.
“I’ve been known as the person, player who doesn’t want anyone to come to their events,” Lloyd explained unapologetically to a throng of reporters as the U.S. prepared for its final send-off game ahead of the World Cup in France. “And I’ve said it before, it’s not a superstitious thing, it’s just something that works for me. In order for me to be at my best, and if I’m at my best, that essentially helps the team.
“I just want to go over there and do my thing. Just like all of you, going to work, you don’t really bring all of your family with you. I feel at ease. I feel at peace.”
However, as the player with the fourth-most caps in U.S. women’s soccer history at 274, tied with 1999 veteran Julie Foudy, the 36-year-old Lloyd feels she has calmed considerably.
“I find that I’ve hit my mid-30s and I’m like, ‘Whoa, I’m kind of reaching that 40-year mark, and then soon it’s going to be 50 and then 60,’ and I don’t know, I’ve kind of come to terms with it,” she said. “I just want to savor every moment. I want to enjoy time with my family. I want to really just focus on just taking in every single day.
Besides her caps, Lloyd is clearly the most accomplished player on Team USA’s Women’s World Cup roster.
Along with her three previous World Cups (and one title), she has played in three Olympic Games (won two gold medals) and scored 110 international goals, fourth best in U.S. history.
Notably, she also has a history of showing up in the biggest moments, having scored the gold-medal-winning goals at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and then playing the role of hero at the 2015 World Cup final, when she scored three goals in the first 16 minutes in leading Team USA to a 4-0 lead and eventual 5-2 victory over Japan.
Yet, heading to France, where the U.S. opens play Tuesday against Thailand, Lloyd finds herself in a new situation.
While she remains as one of three co-captains along with Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, she is no longer a regular starter for the top-ranked U.S. team.
She started only one of the 10 U.S. games this year, with eight more appearances as a sub. Still, Lloyd scored in three consecutive matches in April and May, including two each against Belgium and New Zealand. The pair of goals against New Zealand came after she entered the game in the second half. Closing out the send-off series against Mexico in her home state of New Jersey on May 26, Lloyd again came on as a second-half sub and assisted on the second goal of a 3-0 win.
“I’ve always been a player who, no matter what the challenge and obstacle is, I will fight back 10 times harder,” Lloyd said. “You’re going to grow. You’re going to get better. Of course, I’m going to be accepting of any role that I have to help the team, but for me as an individual, I’m not going to be satisfied being a sub. Why would that be fun? Why am I just going to say: Oh sure, I’ll be a sub. I’m going to keep fighting, I’m going to keep pushing.”
Lloyd says she doesn’t really know why she’s seemingly relegated to the bench, outside of coach Jill Ellis generic description of putting the best 11 players on the field.
“Haven’t really had any conversations. Kind of letting my play dictate that,” she said. “Just kind of showing my age isn’t a factor. To be able to grind and play seven games, I’m conditioned for that. I’m the mind of a 36-year-old but the body of a 26-year-old. I feel really, really good, fit, sharp, explosive.
“I know I can really make a difference.”
Fellow New Jerseyan Tobin Heath has no doubt about Lloyd’s importance and determination.
“Being a kid from Jersey kind of speaks for itself,” Heath said. “There’s a history of kids from Jersey playing on this team. I don’t know, there’s this bond you have.
“I know her work ethic. I know what drives her. When you grow up in a certain region, there’s a certain way about you that’s similar and it’s comfortable."
Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.