Carli Lloyd is not accepting her new role. Not at all.
Lloyd was the star of the 2015 Women’s World Cup four years ago in Canada, scoring three goals in the first 16 minutes of the final to help the U.S. national team win its third World Cup title.
The hat trick earned Lloyd the nickname “Captain America” and made her one of women’s soccer most recognizable athletes. She was voted FIFA Women’s Player of the Year, NFL quarterback Marcus Mariota teed up a for her in a Nike commercial and she wrote a successful book.
Now 36, Lloyd is a role player, likely a second-half substitute in most matches.
“If I was satisfied, I really shouldn’t be here. That’s just not who I am as a person or a player,” she said. “I know that if called upon and needing to play 90 minutes, I can do it. There’s nothing there that’s holding me back except for the coach’s decision.”
That’s not to say that Lloyd is a malcontent. Quite the opposite.
“I haven’t sat here and pouted around and been a horrible teammate,” she said. “I’ve showed up every single day at training and been the hardest working player I could possibly be, and been respectful of that decision. When my chances have come I’ve tried to seize those and take those opportunities.”
Lloyd finds herself in much the same position that Abby Wambach was in Canada. Heading to a record 184 international goals, she came off the bench during the 2015 World Cup for the first time since 2003. Wambach, who retired later that year, handled her situation much differently than Lloyd.
“The World Cup for us, for our sport, is the biggest title you can win as a team,” Wambach said at the time. “I’ve never had the opportunity to win one. I’ve come close. That’s obviously a dream of mine to be able raise that trophy for my country.”
Coach Jill Ellis said she loves that Lloyd wants to start and be a difference-maker.
“I’ve said this, whether Carli comes off the bench or starts the game, she is a game-changer. What I know is that Carli will always put the team first,” Ellis said.
Lloyd was benched before the 2012 London Olympics by then-coach Pia Sundhage, who liked the combination of Shannon Boxx and Lauren Holiday. The demotion didn’t last long, however, because Boxx was injured in the opener.
Lloyd went on to score both goals in the gold-medal match against Japan at Wembley Stadium. She became the only player to score winning goals in consecutive Olympic finals: At the Beijing Games in 2008, she scored in overtime for a 1-0 victory against Brazil.
But she turns 37 next month and is the oldest player on the team.
In Tuesday’s opening 13-0 rout of Thailand, Lloyd entered in the 57th minute and scored in stoppage time. She became the oldest American woman to score at a World Cup and joined Germany’s Birgit Prinz as the only players to score in five straight World Cup games.
In the wake of Tuesday’s victory, the American players faced criticism for celebrating the late goals in a blowout. The United States plays its second group match on Sunday against Chile in Paris.
Ellis said the opening night was about celebrating individual achievement.
“I think I was the most excited on the last goal we scored, because that was Carli Lloyd. And I know all the history and all the background of that player to get to that moment, and what that meant,” Ellis said on the eve of Sunday’s game. “So I think that’s important to put that human element in this as well. It might seem a score line to you, but it’s also years and years of work. … I didn’t know the score, I wasn’t celebrating the goal. I was celebrating Carli.”
Lloyd also is among the U.S. players hoping to make a difference for the next generation. The national team has long championed equal rights, and players collectively filed a lawsuit earlier this year that alleges discrimination by the U.S. Soccer Federation and are seeking pay equitable with that of the men’s national team.
For now, however, the focus is winning a fourth title.
“I just want to do anything I can to help the team, and that hasn’t really changed from when I first got to the team in 2005,” she said. “I’m the same player, trucking along, just wanting to be better and better every single day.”
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