NEW YORK — Nine days after the 2019 World Cup final, Carli Lloyd will turn 37 years old. The Delran, N.J., native is older, erudite and maintains the characteristic that differentiated the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year throughout her distinguished career – a legendary work ethic often fueled by her detractors.
Lloyd embarks on her fourth and final World Cup when the United States women’s national team plays for another world title in France, beginning with a June 11 group stage match against Thailand.
“I’d like to say that I’m 36 – soon to be 37 – but I feel I have the body of a 26-year old,” Lloyd told Pro Soccer USA at the USWNT media day event Friday in New York City. “I just feel, honestly, this is the best version of me that has ever been in my career. Everything is all kind of syncing up at the moment and I’m feeling really, really good.”
Four years ago, Lloyd scored a memorable hat trick in the final and earned the Golden Ball as the Most Valuable Player in the 2015 World Cup in Canada. She shared the spotlight with her coach, Jill Ellis, who was later named FIFA World Coach of the Year.
Ellis’ decision to utilize Lloyd in a reserve role in 2019 places the national team manager in the stable of disbelievers, according to Lloyd who is piqued by her omission from the starting XI.
“I’m ready to go and it’s going to be a decision for the coaching staff to play me,” said Lloyd, who again was on the bench at the start of team’s final World Cup send-off match Sunday against Mexico at Red Bull Arena. “Life throws different challenges at you. I’ve had a different challenge and a different storyline and a different journey going into every major tournament. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”
At the London Olympics in 2012, then-U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage favored a midfield that included Shannon Boxx instead of Lloyd – a long-standing starter. When Boxx injured her hamstring in the opening game of the tournament, Lloyd stepped in and started the remainder of the matches. She scored a total of four goals, including a pair in the gold medal match when the Americans defeated Japan 2-1.
“I have a knack for scoring goals and creating,” said Lloyd, who also produced the game-winning goal in the 2008 Olympic final against Brazil. “I just think my experience and my presence on the field alone is something that intimidates other opponents.”
The daunting figure of Lloyd will be even closer to the goal this year if she is given the opportunity. The 5-foot-8 Rutgers University product is a striker in Ellis’ current system. Nearly all of Lloyd’s 108 international goals have been tallied out of the midfield.
With five goals in her last three matches – all as a reserve forward – Lloyd has found comfort in the transition.
“It hasn’t been this thing, ‘Oh I don’t know how to play forward or I have to get more comfortable,’ ” she said. “It’s more about being efficient and seamless with the way I make runs, all my finishing in the box, getting in the box — kind of working on all of those things. Look, I’m comfortable playing in the midfield, forward – wherever.”
Lloyd said she has gained additional security since her life-altering performance in 2015, and she’s spent the last three years re-inventing her game.
“Instead of the athletic Carli that just wanted to put her head down, go to goal and power through people, I have now taken my game to another level. I’m sophisticated with my play. My tactical side of the game has improved tremendously,” she said.
It has been part of a work load imparted by her personal trainer, James Galanis, the last 16 years.
“When I started this journey working with James in 2003, it’s been about chipping away every single day at everything,” Lloyd said. “It’s not just spending one time doing one thing, it’s about becoming the most complete player in the world. So, the last three years it’s been about tactics but also making my skills better, sharper. I think this is the best my skills have ever been. You want that to all come together at the right moment. I feel stronger than ever.”
Lloyd said she is not certain whether Galanis, who has never seen her play in-person in a major tournament, will travel to France. He will be vacationing with his family in Greece, she said, and mentioned he “may pop over” if the U.S. makes it to the final.
Lloyd is notorious for demanding that family members stay away from major events to minimize distractions.
“I just want to go over there and do my thing,” she said. “It’s like all of you going to work; you don’t really bring your family there with you. For me, it’s sort of the same thing.”
But since the last World Cup, she’s married her high-school sweetheart, Brian Hollins. Will he be permitted to watch her in possibly her final World Cup?
“We honestly really haven’t had any conversation about it – it’s kind of the elephant in the room type of thing,” Lloyd told PSUSA. “It’s not that I don’t want him to come and be a part of that. I don’t know if he’ll hop on a plane if we reach the final. I know in 2015 he was scared to come to the final because he thought we wouldn’t get married.”
She is saving a ticket for the semifinal and final, just in case. Softening her stance on his attendance seems to be part of the older, more complete person and player Lloyd said she’s become. She’s more confident, balanced and aware of life’s fleeting moments.
“I know this is my last World Cup and I’m at a good stage of my life where I can really balance everything,” Lloyd said. “While I want to be 100-percent focused, these last couple of years have given me the broader picture of life. Taking each moment as it comes – living in the moment.”
“She is human after all,” teammate Alex Morgan said with a smile as she listened to Lloyd describe her new outlook on life during a media day new conference.
Megan Rapinoe looked over at Lloyd with a smirk and said, “You have softened up in your later years.”
Perhaps, but definitely not when it comes to her game.
Teammate Crystal Dunn said despite their jokes, Lloyd is still the same, intense, competitive player who’s led the U.S. to so many victories over the years.
“I think everyone’s seen that,” Dunn said. “The last couple games she’s been in, she’s scoring braces every game and really causing havoc up top. That’s the true Carli, and she’s never gonna not be that person and that player.”
And she’s not simply accepting her current role as a dynamic late-game substitute.
“Nah, I can do that from the start. There’s no doubt I can do that from the start,” Lloyd said. “I’m not just doing this to come off the bench and be labeled as this super-sub. While this one [World Cup] I may be going in as a reserve, we all don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s the beauty of it. I’m ready, I’m focused. This is the fittest I’ve ever been, the sharpest I’ve ever been. I can help this team win and I’m going to do anything possible. That’s all I can control at the moment, and we’ll see how the rest of the story is written.”