After opening the World Cup on the bench, Carli Lloyd scored twice during the United States’ second match against Chile, proving she is still a force to be reckoned with. Will it be enough to make the starting-11 against Sweden on Thursday? Lloyd has been a fixture on the United States women’s national team since 2003. But she has seen her role gradually shift in recent years from standout starting player to substitute.
At 36, Lloyd is often described in end-of-career terms. The oldest player on her team, she is also by far its most experienced with more than 270 international appearances. She has competed in two previous World Cup tournaments, leading the United States to victory in 2015 after scoring three goals in the first 16 minutes of the final. She is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist, scoring the winning goals in both 2008 and 2012 playoffs. After 16 years on the national team, this year’s tournament “will most likely be her last world finals,” according to the FIFA Women’s World Cup website. Yet Lloyd has made no secret that she is not content to sit on her laurels.
“I think there would be something wrong if I were satisfied and saying, ‘I’m okay with coming off the bench,’” she told the New York Times in November. Instead, Lloyd has focused on reinventing her game, driven by the same tireless work-ethic that made her a two-time World Player of the Year, in 2015 and then again in 2016. She has transitioned away from her longtime position as centre midfielder to forward, while remaining one of the most prolific scorers in United States history with a total of 113 international goals and counting.
“For me, my most pivotal moments are just rolling the sleeves up, saying, you know, this is another challenge, this is another obstacle, and turning it into a positive,” Lloyd told the US Soccer Federation earlier this month. “I’ve been working these last couple of years to re-find my game, to become better, and I’m just, you know, honestly I’m having fun.” Her tenacity has paid off. After opening the World Cup on the bench, Lloyd was promoted to the starting lineup during Sunday’s game against Chile at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. She became the first player to score in six consecutive World Cup matches, with goals in the 11th and 35th minutes. She also narrowly missed getting another hat trick, after her penalty kick in the 88th minute sailed wide of the left goal post.
Still, the overall 3-0 win pushed the United States through to the round of 16, ahead of their final group stage match against Sweden at the Stade Océane in the northern French city of Le Havre on Thursday. Lloyd’s strong performance against Chile, however, in no way guarantees her a spot in the starting-11. If anything, coach Jill Ellis’s style this tournament has been marked by her willingness to rotate her players. Lloyd was just one of seven tweaks she made to Sunday’s starting lineup.“In terms of trusting the team, it’s kind of been this big-picture plan for a few months now, in certain rotations we’ve done and how we approach certain games,” Ellis told FIFA Women’s World Cup website after Sunday’s match. “I think what 2015 taught me is you can get suspensions, you can get injuries, you can get all of these things, and the more prepared you are to deal with these things, the better off you’ll be.”
Whatever Ellis decides, Lloyd will be prepared on Thursday. “I know that my ability is there, I know this is my best version of me. I’ve just got to go out there and prove it,” she said after Sunday’s match. “Whether that’s coming off the bench and making an impact, whether that’s starting and getting the opportunity, which I’m grateful for, I’m just trying to make the most of it. I want to win.”