Carli Lloyd ends career as most impactful soccer player, man or woman, in US history

As Carli Lloyd prepares for her last game with the U.S. women, there’s an argument to be made that she’s had a bigger impact on the American game than any other player, man or woman.

More than Landon Donovan, who is tied for most career goals by a U.S. man and whose goal over archrival Mexico clinched a spot in the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. More than Paul Caligiuri, who secured a spot in the 1990 World Cup for the American men, their first appearance in 40 years. More than Abby Wambach, whose 184 goals are most by a U.S. woman and second only to Canada’s Christine Sinclair. More than Megan Rapinoe, who has become the face, and conscience, of the U.S. women.

More, even, than Mia Hamm, the first real star of the women’s game.

“She’s a soccer icon everywhere in the world,” U.S. women’s coach Vlatko Andonovski said Monday. “I’ve said this before, if she was a male soccer player in Europe, we would have statues of Carli Lloyd all over. Streets would be named after her. Stadiums. That’s how big she is.”

With 134 goals going into her final game Tuesday night, Lloyd is third on the U.S. all-time scoring list behind Wambach and Hamm (158). But the better measure of her impact is the titles the U.S. women have because of her. Or wouldn’t have won without her.

Carli Lloyd, shown at the 2015 World Cup, has  134 goals going into her final game Tuesday night.
Carli Lloyd, shown at the 2015 World Cup, has 134 goals going into her final game Tuesday night.

Of the eight titles the U.S. women have from the World Cup and Olympics, Lloyd is directly responsible for three of them.

She scored the game-winner in the gold-medal match at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and again at the 2012 Games in London. She single-handedly outscored Japan in the championship game of the 2015 World Cup. In the first 16 minutes, no less.

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“She obviously is a big-game player,” U.S. captain Becky Sauerbrunn said. “A large reason this team has been so successful is because of Carli Lloyd.”

Part of what makes the U.S. women so iconic, though, is that they are more than simply their success on the field. Beginning with Hamm and her teammates who won the 1999 World Cup, they have helped change how American society views and treats women, commanding respect and demanding equality.

They have shown little girls and young women that it’s cool to be strong and confident. They have taught women of all ages to recognize their worth and accept nothing less from others. They have made everyone rethink outdated, sexist attitudes.

While Lloyd might not be as visible as, say, Rapinoe, she has played no less of an important role.

In 2016, fresh off the first of back-to-back FIFA Player of the Year awards, she joined Rapinoe, Sauerbrunn and Alex Morgan in filing a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that U.S. Soccer paid the U.S. women less than the U.S. men. That complaint eventually led to the U.S. women suing U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination in March 2019, with Lloyd, Morgan, Rapinoe and Sauerbrunn the lead plaintiffs.

The lawsuit is ongoing.

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"I think,” Lloyd said in 2016, “that we've proven our worth over the years.”

When a U.S. Soccer attorney asked Lloyd during a deposition if the U.S. women could be competitive against men’s teams, she refused to be embarrassed or apologetic.

“Shall we fight it out to see who wins and then we get paid more?” Lloyd responded.

When the attorney replied that that would be quite the show, Lloyd retorted, “Might be some injuries there.”

“I was a player who grew up with not many live female role models,” Lloyd said Monday. “Hopefully my story can help inspire several generations to come, to know that, ultimately, it’s up to you. It’s up to the individual how far you want to take your career, how far you want to go in life.”

And how long you want to do it.

Lloyd turned 39 just before the Tokyo Olympics began, yet she remains as effective and productive as some players half her age because of her work ethic and relentless training regimen. No one is showing her the door. She opened it herself and is walking through it willingly, content to go out on her terms and at a time of her choosing.

Lloyd leaves a considerable legacy, on the U.S. women, American soccer and society overall. No other player has done more.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Carli Lloyd ends career as most impactful player in US soccer history