USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski, greeting Carli Lloyd after she was replaced in the bronze medal match, knows the forward’s worth to the team and sport. (Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

To many of her U.S. women’s national team teammates, no doubt Carli Lloyd is a legend.

That might go double for head coach Vlatko Andonovski, who has directed her for the past two years.

Lloyd, 39, enters the final stretch run of her career – nationally and domestically. The NJ/NY Gotham FC forward has three USWNT matches remaining in her illustrious career, including Tuesday’s encounter against Paraguay in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Coming off a her first five-goal performance in her international career in last week’s 9-0 win over the South American side, Lloyd has totaled 133 goals in 313 international appearances.

“I’ve thought a lot about Carli, where she’s at and what she has done for this game in the United States,” Andonovski said during a Zoom media conference call Monday. “I know one thing that if she was a male player anywhere in the world, they’ll be statues of her in front of stadiums, in front of sports complexes everywhere.

“I think that’s what Carli deserves. She deserves stadiums and complexes and fields to be named after. She deserves the statues. I mean, she’s a legend, an absolute legend. Just the fact that I had a chance to work with someone like her, it’s very humbling for me. And it’s an honor. I’m happy to say that I had an opportunity to work with someone like her.”

That went ditto for her teammates, young and old.

Forward Tobin Heath has played with Lloyd since 2008, which has included two Women’s World Cup championships (2015 and 2019) and an Olympic gold medal (2012) and bronze medal (2021).

“I can’t speak highly enough about Carli [on] what she’s meant to this team, to the federation, to myself personally,” Heath said. “Obviously, coming from Jersey as well and having that type of role model, a few years older, was something that I couldn’t have asked for a better one.

“In the footballing world, she’s done things that are just unheard of in the game and legend status for sure. The way that she’s gone about her business and the type of professional she is, and the way that she’s the reason why the U.S. women’s national team has the history of success that that we’ve [is] in large in a large way due to Carli Lloyd and the big time plays that she’s had and big-time moments.

“It’s not surprising that she’s had those moments because you watch how she works, how she does her job and everything is set up and prepared to be successful in the moments. We’re certainly going to miss that and also just miss her as a person, and kind of the life and the strength that she’s given to this team.”

Just being around Lloyd has been a learning experience and a half for someone like Sophia Smith, a 21-year-old forward who said he has “had the pleasure of sitting with Carli” at the team’s assigned meal tables due to COVID-19 protocols.

That would be table No. 3, in case you were wondering.

“I definitely don’t take that for granted,” Smith said. “I pick her brain. I ask her questions. I just tried to learn from her because she’s been through it all. She has an experience unlike anyone. I’m going to take advantage of that, because it’s not every day that you get to interact and talk with a legend. Carli’s amazing. There really is no one like her.

“Getting to learn more about her, you really start to understand why she is who she is, why she’s accomplished what she’s accomplished and, and she’s just different. She does everything exactly how she needs it to be done. That’s what separates her, that’s what makes her great. She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. That’s one of the biggest qualities of Carli that I admire is she does not care, because she’s doing what she needs to do and that’s all that matters. I’m just lucky to be able to have these few camps to learn from her and witness her being exactly who she is.”