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A Changed Carli
South Jersey’s soccer star is still winning
By Kate Morgan

Photo credit: AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato

Above: Carli Lloyd celebrates after scoring in the team’s bronze medal match during the 2021 Olympics / Photo: Associated Press

Soccer superstar and Delran native Carli Lloyd has appeared on the pages of SJ Magazine a lot, and for very good reason. In a professional career spanning more than 15 years, she’s racked up many, many awards and accomplishments.

She’s a 4-time Olympian with 2 gold medals and 1 bronze. And even better, she scored in the games that won those medals in 2008, 2012 and 2021. She’s a 2-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion and 2-time Player of the Year. She’s played in more than 300 games with the U.S. national team, and this year she officially became the highest-paid female soccer player in the world.

But in the past 18 months, she has experienced significant change, and recently announced her retirement from professional soccer. Lloyd has always been driven, focused and incredibly hard-working. But now, at 39, and home from her final Olympic appearance, she’s also something else: Carli Lloyd is happy.

Q: It’s hard to imagine a better end to your Olympics career than scoring 2 goals in that last game. How does it feel?

I was emotionally drained after the Canada game. I was frustrated, mad and heartbroken. We had so many meetings with only 2 days in between the games, but despite all of these emotions, something felt different for me. I felt light, like I was exactly where I needed to be. I was ready. I was excited. On the bus ride to the game, I was taking everything in. I was just thinking about how I was going to leave it all out on the field and give it everything I had for the team. I did not want to come home empty-handed. I have never felt more proud than I did at the end of that game. It was an earned win, and we all got to add a bronze medal to our collection. It is an absolute honor to represent my country, and I am proud every time I pull on the jersey.

Q: How did you feel once you knew the team was out of contention for the gold?

After we lost to Canada, I went through a mix of emotions. I was devastated and angry. I couldn’t believe it, but we also didn’t deserve to win. The beauty of the situation we were in was that we still had a chance to go home with a medal, just a different color: bronze. I quickly re-shifted my focus to the next game against Australia.

Carli Lloyd after the loss to Canada that ended the team’s run for Olympic gold / Photo: Alamy/Henry Romero

Q: What happened between the Canada loss and the game against Australia to help the team come back so strong?

After a failure or a loss, you reflect and figure out what went wrong. That is exactly what we did as a team. We had a team meeting with the coaches and some players shared their feelings about how the game went. Vlatko [Andonovski, head coach of the national team] shared some thoughts and asked questions. We then had a players-only meeting, where many people discussed how they were feeling.

I spoke last, which was unusual because I rarely speak up unless I need to. I simply stated that we haven’t been good enough. We have to come out with the right mentality every single day like we know how to. In order for us to win we have to step out onto that field and come together and have the mentality that other teams fear: High pressure, fight for every ball, tackle, attack, defend, and never give up. This was an opportunity to earn a bronze medal, which is still incredible, and we had to get it done.

Q. You had a rough 2020. You were coming off a season that saw you spend more time on the bench, you underwent knee surgery and then the Olympics were postponed. But this year, you’ve had one heck of a comeback. What changed?

This was always in my heart and always my motivation. What I’ve done throughout my career is to just be so good they can’t ignore you. In 2019, I had a coach who maybe wanted to write me off, but I kept coming back for more because I knew I had more to contribute to the team.

I think my age was being used as an excuse. I remember [former coach Jill Ellis] saying to me at some point, “What more do you have to accomplish? Why do you want to keep playing?” I have a lot left. Here I am now with a new coach who doesn’t see my age as a handicap, and I want to go full throttle until it’s time to step away.

 

Q. Obviously, it wasn’t time to step away just yet – you were named to your 4th Olympic team. How did you hear the news?

I got the call on a Monday morning, and the first message I sent out was to my family’s group chat. I just said, “Tokyo, here I come.” I was kind of nervous until the actual call. I’m not a player who needs to hear on a daily basis that I’m doing great. I just go out and do what’s asked of me. I always try to remain humble and hungry, and this season was no different. But still, you just don’t know.

 

Q. The family group chat is a new development, right? After not speaking to your family for most of your career, how has it been to reconnect over the last few months?

I think every family has things they go through. It was part of my journey, and hard to go through life without them by my side. We’ve talked about things, and we’re obviously moving forward. I think we all believe things happen for a reason. Unfortunately, we lost 12 years in each other’s lives. It’s the one thing I regret because my parents are amazing and they did the best they could. We had our minor issues here and there, and then I just went on this mission of being the best soccer player I could be – without them.

 

Q. Did the time you had away from training and competing last year contribute to the decision to reconnect?

A lot of things happened in 2020. I had knee surgery, there was a global pandemic. I had nothing on my calendar. It was just my husband and me, in our house, just living. Just being. I started to dwell on the past a little and ask myself, you know, what exactly is the reason my family and I aren’t speaking? You get to a point where it’s like, life’s too short. I reached out to my family, they all came over, we just started talking, and we just put one foot in front of the other. Each visit became more comfortable, and now it’s like we never skipped a beat. It’s been really terrific. It’s really special, especially toward the end of my career, to have my family be a part of it, because they laid the foundation.

 

Q. You’ve cut ties with your trainer. What happened?

Not being so focused on my goals last year, I could start to see things for what they were. I saw things a little more clearly. I think what I realized is a lot of things can get blown out of proportion. The more time that goes by, things get twisted and over-complicated. You can read between the lines.

I think many people were shocked I cut ties with James. I don’t think a lot of people saw it coming. He came into my life at such a vulnerable time, and we put our complete trust and faith in him to help me. I’ve given him a lot of credit over the years, but I also think I haven’t given myself enough. He helped me and taught me a lot of things, but I was the one out there doing it. I was the one out there on the world stage, while the pressure rose. I went out there and did it.

 

Q. Did the time you had away from the soccer field last year give you a taste of life after soccer?

Yes, that’s exactly right. I think I now have a different perspective on many things. We’re all not getting any younger. I think once you get into your mid- and late 30s, you look at life a different way. I’m older, I’m wiser, and I’ve been through a lot.

In 2020, for the first time in my career, I actually lived. I enjoyed the moment and stayed in the present. I could eat something a little unhealthy, sit down at night and have a glass of wine or an IPA. It was a glimpse at what’s to come. I think I’m getting to a point where I know the end is coming, but I’m excited for the next chapter. As an athlete, when you’re done playing, people struggle because their identity was always being an athlete. But my family and friends are amazing. My husband’s amazing. And I can be me. I don’t have to be Carli the soccer player, Carli the superstar, and I’m comfortable with that.

 

Q. Your play has been the best it’s been in a long time. Why do you think that is?

When your mind is clear and you have all the right people around you, you are able to just flourish. I’m doing great. I’ve never been this happy. I almost feel like the “before Carli” is finally back. I’m not this callous hardcore person I was trying to be. I think I sometimes have that demeanor, but my heart has opened up a lot more to the way I used to be. I’m living an actual happier life now. I think everything’s sort of in sync and balanced. I’m training harder, I’m playing the best soccer I’ve played. I’ve never been this fast, explosive, lean and cut. But I’m enjoying the process more.

 

Q. Why is it suddenly so much more fun?

I think it’s more enjoyable because I’m doing it for me. This last chapter, this last hurrah, is for me. All the 6 am wakeups to go out to run, the 10 pm trainings…the sacrifices, the ice baths, the massages. All of it. Everything. It’s for <i>me<i>, and I think that’s what’s really special. I know what to do. The old Carli is finally back. My heart is…I don’t know what the word is. It’s full. I feel whole again.

Q: What made you decide it was time to retire?

I had always had the vision to play in 4 World Cups and 4 Olympics. I wanted to be the one to dictate my retirement and go out on my own terms. The timing just felt right. The next championship isn’t until 2023, so I am ready to start this next chapter of living my life, enjoying time with my husband, family and friends and starting a family of our own.

September 2021
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