Soccer player

Carli Lloyd retires: USWNT will struggle to find another footballer like her

She cried first, letting her tears seep into the grass at Kashima Stadium, and then she ran, meaning her sweat could take the same course. Carli Lloyd would literally leave everything she had on the pitch.

Lloyd told us so much in the hour following the loss of the United States Women’s National Team in the Olympic Games semi-finals to Canada. She was among those most affected by the loss, as it was not just a lost opportunity to play for a gold medal or take revenge in the final against Sweden’s nemesis. She knew she was quitting the sport soon, and this had been her chance to step out on top of the world.

Lloyd had left clues in his interviews about the cost of playing football at an elite level up to and beyond his 39th birthday. She spoke of the sacrifices made by those around her, including her five-year husband Brian Hollins, and the fact that it was time to just live a different kind of life. And yet, there are many in the football media who have argued that Lloyd would never consent to quit the national team by choice.

She had shown such insistence on her place in the game, on the USWNT, over the past few years that it was reasonable to assume that she didn’t have the capacity to shut it down. But she’ll play her last game with the USWNT on Tuesday, then finish this season with NWSL’s NJ / NY Gotham FC, and that will be it.

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She ranks among the greatest in the history of her sport. Along with Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and a few others, Lloyd is among the few players to own two Olympic gold medals and two World Cup titles. Her dominance in the later stages of the 2015 World Cup, which earned her that tournament’s Golden Ball and the 2015 FIFA Women’s Player of the Year award (above), made it clear that she belonged to the discussion with players such as Hamm, Michelle Akers, Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly.

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But none of Lloyd’s accomplishments have defined her in the same way as her last three years with the national team, when time and circumstances dictated that she would be ideal as a super-sub, ”and Lloyd turned up. tenaciously fought against this designation and role. She was such a fierce competitor that she never wore the team crest.

“Carli Lloyd is a true legend,” USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski said in the US Soccer statement announcing his retirement plan. “His career has been unique and his success on the pitch is something all current and future national team players should aspire to achieve. The way she approached her daily training and her professional career is truly impressive, and I was honored to coach her.

While there have been rare examples in other sports like Tom Brady in the NFL or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA, hardly anyone in football has played at this level at this age. Sport is so physically strenuous, offers so little downtime that it steals its youth at a faster pace.

Think about the most prominent soccer players of the past decades. USWNT career scorer leader Abby Wambach is now 41 years old. She retired half a dozen years ago, at the end of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, where she started three games and scored one goal in the seven games leading up to the world championship. Also 41 years old and in his fourth season as Rangers manager, Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard made his last game in 2016 after an unsuccessful season in MLS. Hamm, considered the tallest of all USWNT players, retired after winning an Olympic gold medal in 2004 at the age of 32. Cristiano Ronaldo is still a superstar at 36. He will have to keep him until 2024 to prove he has Lloyd’s endurance.

Lloyd will end his career second in career international caps (316), behind Lilly (151), who was last called at 39, and ahead of Christie Rampone Pearce, who played in the 2015 World Cup at 40. With 134 goals internationals, Lloyd is tied for fourth all-time, behind No. 1 Christine Sinclair of Canada.

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It seems unlikely that anyone will soon equal Lloyd’s record for delivery in the clutch. The USWNT has won eight major tournaments in its history: four World Cups, four Olympics. Lloyd scored the championship-winning goal in a quarter of those (2008 and 2012 Olympics) and scored a hat trick in the 2015 World Cup final. As if to prove she hadn’t. Not losing her hand coming out, she scored the game-winning goal in the bronze medal match against Australia at the Tokyo Olympics.

Her accomplishments were vast and amazing, but it was more about how she got to the top of the mountain and her determination to stay there. Her dedication to training took her from a bench ahead of the 2012 Olympics to a pivotal role in that USWNT triumph and then leading the 2015 World Cup in Canada. In 2019, she was better placed to play forward than in midfield, but the attacking place belonged to Alex Morgan. And that’s how Lloyd came to take a punitive look at a reporter – OK, me – who asked after a pre-World Cup friendly in 2019 about his successful assimilation into a super-submarine role. of the USWNT.

“I wouldn’t say he’s adjusting. I would say he’s trying to regain a starting spot, ”Lloyd told Sporting News. “There is no setting to be a super submarine. There is grinding every day while neither of you is watching. Repetition after repetition to continually improve in areas where I can improve. I’m going to be hungry to keep getting better. I am not sitting here saying that the game is resolved and that I am a perfect player.

She has only started one game out of the seven required to win this World Cup, scoring twice against Chile, entering as a substitute and finishing everything else. Eventually she returned to the starting lineup, in part because of her relentless approach to the pursuit of excellence, in part because incumbent Alex Morgan took a break to have her first child. Lloyd has started two matches at the SheBelieves Cup 2020, on the eve of the pandemic’s end. She started seven of 12 pre-Olympic games this year, then three of six at the Olympics, including the bronze medal game. She leads the team in goals (11) and assists (6) in 2021.

It was Lloyd who chose to take the field and run sprints in the wind after the Olympic semi-final loss to Canada. There was yet another game to play, and she was going to be as fit as possible for it. After Megan Rapinoe gave the United States a 2-0 lead in the bronze medal game with goals in the 8th and 21st minutes, Lloyd kept pushing and scored to make it 3-1 in additional time before the half-time break and again immediately after. The Americans would need all of those goals in a 4-3 win.

“Through all the goals, trophies, medals and championships I have won,” Lloyd told US Soccer, “what I’m most proud of is that I was able to stay me without apologizing.”

The USWNT has never had someone like her.

If he can find another one, what luck he will have.