At 39 Carli Lloyd was, by some distance, the oldest player on the US women’s soccer team in the Tokyo Olympics. She wasn’t the same player who established an unrivaled propensity for decisive goals from the 2008 Olympics to the 2015 World Cup.
So why does her imminent retirement seem so surprising?
No one would be surprised to hear a retirement announcement from the underappreciated Becky Sauerbrunn, the pragmatic central defender who has no desire to overstay her welcome. Nor would we be surprised to hear an (already hinted at) farewell note from Megan Rapinoe, whose contributions for club and country sharply declined after she excelled as a set-piece specialist in the 2019 World Cup.
Lloyd, on the other hand, seemed determined to play forever. She has always been driven by an obsessive desire to prove people wrong, even after scoring some of US soccer’s most important goals of the past 15 years.
That drive hadn’t gone away. Last year, she said she wouldn’t have continued playing for the US if Jill Ellis, who demoted her to a supersub role in the team’s victorious campaign at the 2019 World Cup, had remained as coach. This year, she launched some barbs at one of the most experienced women’s soccer journalists in the USA, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald, after the “hometown dude” dared to express some doubt that Lloyd wasn’t a lock to make the 18-player Olympic roster.
That wasn’t Lloyd’s first run-in with the media. After the 2016 Olympics, she refused to answer questions until the Houston Chronicle’s Corey Roepken, who had questioned why she had taken more time off than expected between playing in the Games and returning to the Houston Dash, was dismissed from the assembled group of reporters. Her reputation for blocking people on Twitter was captured in a “WoSo World Bingo” meme.
Lloyd has always insisted on doing things her own way, even to the point of fraying relationships. She spent much of her career with Australian coach James Galanis, who encouraged her to play with a chip on her shoulder and even helped her find adversaries whose enmity, real or exaggerated, could motivate her. That relationship contributed to a rift with her family that lasted through the peak of her career.
In 2020, she reversed those relationships. She split with Galanis and renewed her ties with her family. (One constant: high school sweetheart Brian Hollins, whom she married in 2016.)
Like her longtime friend Hope Solo, she wrote a candid memoir in which she talked about her complex family life and recalled being an outsider even within the national team. And like Solo, she proved that world-class players don’t need to be best buddies with their teammates. Starting with her extra-time winner in the 2008 Olympic final against Brazil, Lloyd has scored goals when they matter.
In a 2012 Olympic group-stage game against France, she replaced the injured Shannon Boxx in the first half with the USA down 0-2. Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan scored to tie the game, and Lloyd unleashed a 25-yard screamer to put her team ahead. In the 2012 final, she scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Japan – the first from a header as she rampaged through the box, the second on a mesmerizing solo effort in which she took the ball around the halfway line, raced past a defender and shot through traffic from 20 yards out.
She took it to another level at the 2015 World Cup, scoring six goals in four knockout games. Her penalty kick provided a vital insurance goal against Colombia in the round of 16. She then scored the only goal in a quarter-final win over China. In the semi-final against Germany, she scored the first goal from another penalty, albeit one that probably wouldn’t have been awarded in the VAR era, then set up the USA’s second goal.
The 2015 final was a Lloyd highlight reel, and arguably the greatest individual performances in a women’s World Cup final. She scored two goals in the first five minutes. In the 16th, she gave the USA a 4-0 lead with a strike from the halfway line.
She also had a couple of good years in professional play, scoring eight goals in 14 games with the New Jersey club then known as Sky Blue in 2019, even with a long absence for the World Cup and the previous year’s reports of appalling conditions for players at the club.
Lloyd will play in two US friendlies before she retires, but her final competitive appearance for the USWNT was the Olympic bronze medal game two weeks ago, in which she put the USA up 3-1 with a clinical two-touch finish off Lindsey Horan’s well-placed pass, then won the ball for a solo breakaway which ended with her 10th career Olympic goal.
So perhaps the lure of time with her family, combined with her advancing age, pushed her to hang up the cleats after this season. Or perhaps after spending her career successfully proving herself, she had nothing left to achieve.