Carli Lloyd waves to fans after her final game as a member of the US Women's National Team on Oct. 26, 2021 in St Paul, Minn.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Shortly after Carli Lloyd met Vlatko Andonovski, she had a question for her new coach.
“She said, ‘How do you feel about extra work?’” Andonovski recalled this week.
Lloyd, then 37, explained how she had her own training regimen. After a full session with the U.S. women’s national team, she told him, she’d call up Google Maps, find a nearby green patch and borrow a team car to go get some extra sprints in.
Sensing that his indefatigable star forward would do the workouts regardless, Andonovski went pragmatic and offered her the use of the team’s manicured turf training fields instead.
Lloyd’s legendary drive and intensity preceded that 2019 conversation, and against the odds those qualities helped propel her for another two years and to another major tournament before Tuesday night, when at 39 she capped off an unrivaled international career in a farewell match in St. Paul.
Playing in front of an adoring, near-sellout crowd at Allianz Field, the native of Delran, New Jersey, was the center of attention throughout a 6-0 friendly win over South Korea, with fans cheering her every move. Lloyd, who retires with the fourth most goals (134) and second most appearances (316) in international soccer history, concluded her career to a standing ovation from the 18,115 in attendance as she was subbed off for Alex Morgan in the 66th minute. Afterward, her teammates gathered around Lloyd as chants of “Thank You Carli” reverberated through the stadium.
Following a video message from her husband, Brian Hollins, and a highlight package from her 17-year national team career, she concluded her career with a heartfelt speech thanking her teammates, the fans, U.S. Soccer support staff and, in true Lloydian fashion, “the doubters, the critics.”
“I love you all,” she said. “You’ve pushed me to greater and greater heights throughout my whole career, and I’m really grateful for that.”
The match proved to be a fitting send-off for one of the sport’s all-time great players, and a player who despite her success has at times been overshadowed by other high-profile teammates.
Playing on a chilly fall night in Minnesota’s capital, Lloyd had a freshness in her step from the opening minute. The veteran team captain lining up beside several less experienced teammates, Lloyd was quick on her feet, running while the others were jogging. Though she wasn’t able to convert her chances against a bunkering South Korea team, Lloyd ended her national team career on her terms — fit, fast and dangerous, the way she always aimed to play.
“I hope you all know that I gave it everything I had for every single one of you,” she told the crowd.
“She’s a soccer icon anywhere in the world,” Andonovski said prior to Tuesday’s game. “I said this before, if she was a male soccer player in Europe, we would have statues of Carli Lloyd all over the country, streets would be named after her, complexes, stadiums, everything. That’s how big she is.”
Lloyd’s origin story has become the stuff of legend.
A star midfielder at Rutgers, she was cut from the U.S. Under-21 team in 2003, and shortly thereafter began working with a personal coach, James Galanis. With him, she developed the hyper-intense training regimen that would drive her to unmatched heights on the field — but also to pain and heartache along the way.
As a player, Lloyd made her national team debut in July 2005, then went on to play a pivotal role in some of the biggest moments in USWNT history.
In both 2008 and 2012, she scored the goals that secured the Olympic gold medal.
Most stunning, though, was her performance at the 2015 Women’s World Cup final, when she scored three goals — including one on an audacious strike from midfield — within the first 16 minutes, as the Americans went on to defeat Japan 5-2 in Vancouver. That year marked the first of two in a row in which she was named the sport’s world player of the year.
Success wasn’t linear, however.
Lloyd’s single-minded approach to training — long hours, repetition after repetition — led to a dozen-year estrangement from her family that only ended in 2020, when she parted ways with Galanis. She’s also played her career with a chip on her shoulder — even if some of the doubters were embellished in her head, she admits now. Not all of them were, though.
Before becoming the Olympic hero in 2012, she started the London Games as a reserve. The din of doubt only grew louder as Lloyd moved into her late 30s and a golden generation of U.S. attackers assumed the starting forward roles. Steadfast in her belief that she, too, was still one of the best scorers on the planet, Lloyd nonetheless accepted a super-rub role on the 2019 World Cup team, starting just one game in the winning effort.
And she made it clear she wasn’t done.
With a coaching change that fall, and smaller roster sizes at the 2020 Olympic tournament, a potentially ugly end to Lloyd’s national team career appeared more likely than not. Then the Olympics were postponed a year due to the pandemic, throwing another setback to the team’s oldest player.
Except this is Lloyd we’re talking about.
Even before the Olympic rosters were eventually expanded from 18 to 22, Lloyd’s spot in her eighth major tournament for the United States was secure. Then, on a breezy evening in Kashima, Japan, she scored what would be the game-winning goal in a 4-3 win over Australia in the bronze-medal game.
She never stopped believing in herself.
Coming into Tuesday’s farewell match, Lloyd led all U.S. players with 11 goals and six assists in 2021.
Long reticent to talk about her age or the inevitable end of her playing career, Lloyd has tried to embrace the moment since announcing her retirement in August. Whereas before she might have stayed in her hotel room focusing on the next game, on Sunday night she joined teammates Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe at a Rolling Stones concert in Minneapolis, where the trio posed for a photo backstage with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
“Throughout my career I’ve just wanted to be the best soccer player I could be,” she said Monday. “I’ve often missed out on doing things for fun. I’m not missing out on anything now.”
Lloyd similarly embraced the moment on Tuesday. With nearly 30 family members in the crowd and celebrations of her career throughout the evening, she showed rare emotion in the spectacle. Upon being subbed off the field for the last time in a U.S. jersey, Lloyd removed her shoes and saluted the fans for several moments before finally walking off the field. Before leaving the field she removed her jersey, revealing a matching U.S. jersey with her husband’s last name on the back.
In her immediate future is wrapping up her final pro season, where her Gotham FC team is in NWSL playoff contention with two games to go. After that she wants to start a family, she said, and stay involved in the game in some capacity.
For one more night on Tuesday, though, Lloyd played the game the only way she knew how.
“Whatever you give her, she’ll make the most out of it,” Andonovski said. “Once again, she was there, like 17 years ago, slide tackling, winning tackles for us, playing balls off, making runs. It was typical Carli Lloyd.”