Had the Tokyo Olympics been contested in 2020, as scheduled, Carli Lloyd would have been a full year younger than that. She would have turned 38 just before the games started, instead of 39 – which, frankly, is still old for a professional footballer. So maybe those extra 12 months don’t really mean much.
Or maybe they made Lloyd better at the sport she was already a legend in.
“I’m actually feeling better” after the US women’s national team completed a friendly win over Jamaica 4-0 on Sunday night, she told Sporting News. “And I don’t think if it were played in 2020, a number of different things wouldn’t happen.
“My family wasn’t a part of it. I wouldn’t have had knee surgery. I changed my strength program, started working out with a guy at home. I have a new coach I work with with the ball. So I feel like I’ve gone from thinking I keep improving to just like A whole other level. I’ve never been fit so fast, so explosive.”
If it seemed unlikely that there could be another level beyond excellence for a middle-aged athlete, you didn’t care about the sports world in 2021. Tom Brady, the six-ring Super Bowl owner, won seven of his rings as a 43-year-old quarterback. Golfer Phil Mickelson earned his sixth major title with a PGA Championship title win at the age of 50. Helio Castroneves, who basically got rid of the race team when he entered his mid-40s, won his fourth Indianapolis 500 at age 46.
Lloyd may not seem to belong in this age group at first glance, but he understands the nature of the sport and the constant grind throughout the year tends to age footballers more quickly. Mia Hamm played her last USWNT match at the age of 32. Abby Wambach was terminated at the age of thirty-five. And Landon Donovan, USMNT Greatest Player, was left out of the 2014 World Cup squad at the age of 32. Zinedine Zidane ended his career by winning the World Cup shortly after turning 34.
Lloyd will reach her 39th birthday on July 16, and it would be a complete celebration if it happened in Japan while preparing for the Games’ opening five days later against enemy Sweden. She has won the World Cup twice and two Olympic gold medals. She played 303 international matches, the third in the history of world football, and scored 125 international goals, ranking sixth. Against Jamaica, she became the oldest player ever to score for the USWNT, and scored that goal 23 seconds into the match, as though it had to be accomplished before time caught up with her (video below).
It is still possible. Had the COVID-19 pandemic not postponed the Olympics until this summer, the US team might have been a somewhat less brutal challenge. Veteran forward Alex Morgan had only been two months since the birth of her daughter Charlie, and Lloyd was superior to the position while Morgan was absent. Lynne Williams had just made her return to the national team, despite her good performance and scoring the winner in the CONCACAF Olympics qualifying final against Canada. The promising Midge Purce could barely bear its name.
Unlike the World Cup, which allows teams to bring 23 players into what would become a seven-game tournament for the winner and runner-up, the Olympics only accommodate 18 players per team in the six matches required for a gold medal. In his first tournament as a USWNT coach, Vlatko Andonovski will have to make some painful decisions due to the abundance of talented players. He must balance any desire for a basic international tournament experience for younger players with the understanding that the primary goal is to engage the team that is most likely to win the gold medal.
“It’s very difficult, but at the same time, the closer we get, I think, the easier it becomes,” Andonovsky told Sporting News. “It becomes clearer with the analysis we can do and the evaluation. If we had 23, it would be difficult to cut down on 24, 25 and 26 players. It is always difficult.
“We have a very deep list… No matter the number, it will always be difficult.”
Perhaps due to the lack of a national team timetable for her consumption, Lloyd took the opportunity to make some massive changes in her life during 2020. She split from her longtime coach, James Galanis, who has become a kind of personal “guru” for the player who scored tournament winning goals 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games and won the 2015 FIFA World Player of the Year award.
Working with Galanis has been a factor in the ongoing feud between Lloyd and her family, which has continued for more than a decade. Upon ending this affiliation, Lloyd called her parents and started We are working on fixing that relationship.
Now hoping to win a final gold medal, she insists that her desire to experience life outside of professional sport – not getting old – will end her career. The one perk of the competition near its 40th birthday was a move into an attacking position, a position that doesn’t usually require covering as much area as a midfielder.
As is typical for Lloyd, I worked hard to perfect the position, including studying a movie for the game’s top strikers to learn their tricks and techniques. She made the transition before the USWNT’s victory at the 2019 World Cup, appearing in all seven games and scoring three goals for coach Jill Ellis, but Andonovsky’s arrival means re-learning how to play as a central striker.
“The way he played ninth was a little different with Jill,” Lloyd said. “We didn’t push too hard, we didn’t do certain things. I feel like the way Vlatko wants our team to play suits me perfectly. I love high pressure. I love putting defenders and opponents under pressure. From the time Vlatko joined the board until now, I’ve been literally just a sponge trying Constantly improving and developing my game.”
Lloyd was notorious for the personal insults she took to motivate her, beginning with her sitting before the 2012 Olympics that ended with her scoring twice in the gold medal match. Ahead of the 2019 World Cup, she was annoyed by the suggestion that she had adopted the role of “Super Sub”, assuring SN that she still struggled for a starting point every day.
In the early hours of Monday morning, Lloyd made sure to tell the Philadelphia Inquirer’s excellent football writer, Jonathan Tannenwald, that she was aware that he had predicted she wouldn’t make the Olympic roster, and that she was particularly upset that the Inquirer was essentially a local newspaper for someone who had grown up 14 miles away in Delran, NJ
“I don’t think I’ll be able to respond directly to any player, not just Carly, any player on this team until I have to,” Andonovsky told Tannenwald. “I will say that I was happy with her performance: go in, score the goal, set the rhythm for the team and generally perform well, not only in this match but in previous games and in training. So I think she is in a really good place.”