U.S. soccer star Carli Lloyd is kicking next phase of career into high gear

About an hour after her record-setting performance in last summer's Women's World Cup final, Carli Lloyd called her personal coach, James Galanis, in New Jersey.

"I'm not stopping. I want more," Galanis said Lloyd told him. "Then the next question was 'when are we training again?' "

For Galanis, the short conversation told him all he needed to know: success wasn't going to spoil Lloyd.

For more than a decade she had played with a chip on her shoulder the size of a soccer ball, driven more by a desire to prove others wrong rather than to prove herself right. And even scoring three goals in a World Cup final, bringing the U.S. its first title in 16 years, hadn't changed that.

"I constantly am thinking that I'm an underdog. I'm constantly thinking that I haven't achieved anything," Lloyd, who scored six goals in four World Cup elimination games by the U.S. to win most-valuable-player honors, said Thursday during a break in the national team's January training camp.

"That's how I've been going about my career. Nothing's ever good enough. It doesn't matter what I did in the World Cup. I have to be better."

Finding new peaks to climb may be a challenge after Monday, when Lloyd could be selected the FIFA women's world player of the year. But even without the award, last summer's success has led her to rethink a career she and Galanis had planned to wind down after this year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Now refueled and rededicated, Lloyd plans to stick around for another World Cup and one more Olympics, playing past her 38th birthday.

"When we started, there were three phases. That's as far as we looked, to Rio," said Galanis, who has been working with Lloyd for 13 years, guiding her through three World Cup cycles with the senior national team. "But more recently, just with her continuous improvement … we put on another phase. So there's a Phase 4 now."

And it will be a markedly different one. Because despite scoring 79 goals in 211 games with the U.S., including the game winners in consecutive Olympic finals, something no other player had done, Lloyd has spent much of her career toiling anonymously in the shadow of teammate Abby Wambach.

Yet, all the while she may have been the most complete player on the field.

"She's now the best scoring midfielder in the world. And maybe that we've ever seen in the women's game," former U.S. national team coach Tony DiCicco said. "She has a special quality."

Wambach, who announced her retirement last fall, is gone, and with her the direct attacking style that long marked the U.S. team. In its place Coach Jill Ellis is expected to build the offense around Lloyd in the midfield and Alex Morgan up front.

"I think Jill definitely sees me in more of a leadership role," said Lloyd, a though that was confirmed Saturday when Ellis appointed Lloyd and defender Becky Sauerbrunn co-captains of the national team.

And while that's a spotlight Lloyd has longed for, her sudden celebrity in the wake of a World Cup final watched by a record 27 million in the U.S., has often been overwhelming.

"It's gone from one extreme to the other," she said. "In a good way.

"But life is different."

Lloyd's attitude is different too. Although Galanis says the chip is still on her shoulder, it's smaller. Reduced, too, is the need to prove herself with every pass and every touch.

"She's just more relaxed," Galanis said of Lloyd, whose game has always been marked by mental toughness and conditioning. "She matured a lot through all this. She's finally realized that she can carry her team and she can really impact games on her own and she's legitimately the best all-around player in the world.

"She knows that now."

Whether the world knows will be determined Monday, when the FIFA awards are handed out at a gala in Zurich, Switzerland. Lloyd is one of three women's finalists, alongside German striker Celia Sasic and Japanese midfielder Aya Miyama.

There doesn't appear to be much of a debate. Although Sasic and Lloyd tied for the World Cup lead with six goals each, it was Sasic's miss of a second-half penalty kick in the semifinals that opened the door for the U.S. to advance on a goal by Lloyd. Then in the first 16 minutes of the final, Lloyd collected three goals, or one more than Miyama had in the tournament.

"I would be surprised if she didn't win," said Mia Hamm, the only American to win the award twice. "She deserves it.

"She just didn't wake up and things were handed to her. She had to work extremely hard."

The voters may not agree. Last week, a Dutch website tweeted out what appeared to be an official document listing Sasic as the winner and Argentina's Lionel Messi as the men's winner.

FIFA responded with a flurry of tweets, insisting the awards winners had not been leaked.

But win or lose, Lloyd said she knows what she's going to do Tuesday morning: work on getting better.

"I've got this huge taste of success and I want more," she said. "This could have easily gone to somebody's head. And yeah, they could have taken their foot off the pedal.

"But that's not who I am. I'm obsessed. I want to leave the [2015] World Cup in the dust."

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 10, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Forging ahead - After being selected the best player at the Women's World Cup for leading the U.S. to the title, Carli Lloyd still has more goals" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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