Carli Lloyd has won a lot of things in her long soccer career, including a pair of Olympic gold medals, a World Cup and two FIFA player-of-the-year awards.
Now she’s chasing a more modest prize by trying to win back her job on the national team.
A midsummer ankle injury limited Lloyd to eight starts and two goals for the U.S. last year, her lowest totals in eight years. And with regional qualifying for the 2019 World Cup beginning in October, Lloyd entered the national team’s January training camp at StubHub Center in Carson with no guarantees she’ll be playing in those games.
“I’ve got to dig deep and cement my starting spot back,” said Lloyd, the active leader in caps (246), goals (98) and assists (50) for the national team.
“There’s different challenges I’ve faced every phase of my career. And this is a different one.
“And I know I’ll prove that I can be out there.”
Don’t bet against her. Because if there’s anything Lloyd enjoys more than soccer, it’s proving her critics wrong.
Her hat trick in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final, one that wowed a U.S.-record TV audience of more than 27 million? That came hours after her personal coach, James Galanis, showed her a magazine story that omitted her from a list of the tournament’s top 30 players.
Three years earlier, after making her anger known over starting the London Olympics on the bench, Lloyd scored both goals in the gold-medal game, becoming the first player, male or female, to score the winning goal in consecutive Olympic finals.
Lloyd not only relishes the doubters, she actively eggs them on.
“I’m sure there’s people out there saying I’m too old,” said Lloyd, at 35 the oldest player on the U.S. roster. “What more can I contribute to the team? But in my eyes I have a lot left to contribute. And I’m going to prove that.
“Every phase of my career there’s been small, little battles, big battles. I’m constantly fighting these battles…to be on top in the big moments. That’s really what it’s all about.”
This is actually the fourth phase of Lloyd’s career, one for which Galanis — a confident and convincing Australian Lloyd happily calls her guru — originally didn’t plan. When he started working with Lloyd near her New Jersey home 15 years ago, he divided her career into three segments, ending with the 2016 Rio Olympics. But Lloyd convinced him she had more left.
A lot more.
“I’m more fit than I’ve ever been. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m training harder than ever. And I think I’m playing smarter,” she said.
Smarts and experience, Lloyd said, have made her better by allowing her to anticipate plays and react to them before they happen.
“It’s all about efficiency,” she said. “In the beginning of my career, I’d just run all around. Now it’s all about getting in the right position, doing less running because you’ve become even smarter and wiser.”
One of those who is smartly betting on Lloyd to prove her detractors wrong again is Jill Ellis, coach of the women’s national team.
“Carli battled some injuries last year so now it’s about getting back into an everyday competitive environment,” Ellis said. “Like any player, it’s about showing consistency in your performance to produce every day on the training pitch, and then performing at the highest levels in matches.”
Lloyd is getting the chance to produce on the training pitch during twice-daily practices. And next week, when Ellis trims the camp roster from 24 to 18, Lloyd hopes to convince her coach she deserves a chance to perform at the highest levels in matches during a Jan. 21 friendly with Denmark in San Diego.
The real target, though, is October’s World Cup qualifiers. And by then Lloyd promises she’ll have nothing left to prove.
“I know that I’ll be peaking at the right moment and giving the coaching staff no reason to leave me out of the squad,” she said.
“This next phase, I’m going to take over the world again.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11