Carli Lloyd celebrates a goal during the 2020 SheBelieves Cup. (Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Carli Lloyd was one of six U.S. women’s national team players who played a full 90 minutes in the 4-0 win over Colombia Monday night.
Nothing earth-shattering there. But given Lloyd’s age, it was telling she went the entire way in her first competitive match in nearly a year and after returning from a knee injury last season.
Lloyd is 38-years-old, one of the oldest, if not the oldest field player who competes regularly for the USWNT, as she wants to leave a good impression on head coach Vlatko Andonovski as the head coach makes decisions on which players to take to Tokyo for the Summer Olympics.
Rosters at the Olympics house 18 players instead of 23 at the Women’s World Cup.
Lloyd didn’t find the net to add to her total of 123 international goals, but she did set up tallies by the Mewis sisters – Sam and Kristie – at Exploria Stadium.
“She’s coming off a knee scope and playing 90 minutes. I think that’s incredible,” Andonovski said. “It was just a good example for some of the younger players in terms of what it takes to be on the next level.”
You don’t have to ask Lloyd how much she wants to perform in her fourth Olympic tournament. Lloyd, who will be 39 for opening kickoff in Japan, has established her legacy in the Summer Games as the only player — man or woman – to score goals in gold medal matches (2008 and 2012).
The last time Lloyd played competitively was in the final game of the SheBelieves Cup, a 3-1 win over Japan in Frisco, Texas March 11.
“Great to clock in 90,” she said. “It’s been 10 months. I’ve trained over the hiatus. I’m feeling good. It’s always good to get the first 90 in your belt. You can do all the training you want but you got to get in there you got to get your feet wet again and I felt pretty good. It was a physical match. I just needed to find ways to link up with the team, lay off balls, get in the box and just got to keep building.”
Lloyd sent several headers on goal that goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda saved.
While she did not score, the former Rutgers University standout found ways to help her teammates celebrate their goals. Lloyd nodded the ball to Sam Mewis in front of the goal and the midfielder headed that home in the 33rd minute. Lloyd dribbled toward the end line before sending a left-wing cross to Kristie Mewis, who slotted the ball home in the 85th minute.
“As far as the headers, this was the last thing to come for me and in my training at home,” Lloyd said. “I spent the whole time building back slowly and working on different things and, and the timing and my jumping [was] the last thing that’s going to just come and I was pretty happy with my timing, a little bit, but I still needed to kind of be a little bit more accurate and get a little bit more power behind it.
“Those are goal-scoring opportunities I know I’ve got to get some of those in the back of the net. But I can also focus where I’m at right now and where I want to be, and just keep plugging along. I think it’s going to come. I just need to be patient. I can’t beat myself up about it. But there’s other roles for me to play besides scoring goals and I just had to find you know other ways to help the team in any way I could.”
Lloyd stressed she never had any retiring thoughts during last year’s COVID-19 break.
“It wasn’t a question of not returning,” she said. “This was the longest hiatus and longest break mentally and physically that I’ve ever had in my career. I’ve had been fortunate enough with injuries I’ve broken a lot of bones. This was unfortunately my first surgery. I thought I’d make it through my career without a surgery but I was pretty, pretty close.
“The previous injuries that I’ve had, there’s always been kind of a timetable and a rush to to somewhat get back. This gave me time to literally shut off and spend time with my husband and reconnect with my family, which I’m extremely grateful for, being at peace with a lot of things. I’m feeling really good. This is probably the best I’ve felt. I just have to keep going, keep pushing on. I’ll know the right time to to hang the boots up.”
Right now, she’s raring to go for another 90 minutes. The USA meets Colombia again Friday night.