Carli Lloyd, ‘unapologetically me,’ savors the last dance

KASHIMA, Japan — Carli Lloyd spent the 45-minute bus ride to the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium on Thursday deep in thought, and no, she wasn’t thinking about retirement. Not quite. Not yet.

But something about this pregame drive, she admitted, was “different.”

Would it be her last at the Olympics? Her last with the U.S. national team? She hasn’t said, but as she meandered through Japanese countryside, en route to one last game at these Olympics, she allowed her mind to wander. To drift into the past.

She reflected less on the accomplishments — the 312 USWNT appearances, the four major trophies — and more so on the work. On the grind. On the personal film sessions, at home on her laptop. On the stretching, and deep-tissue muscle work, and massages, and ice baths in a horse trough in her Medford, New Jersey, backyard.

On the runs that have nourished her, day after day, rain or shine. The distance runs and intervals. The early mornings and afternoons. The hotel stairwells or clandestine workouts at a nearby field. The stubbornness when coaches have tried to “deny” her.

She reflected on 16-plus years of it; on the times it didn’t yield results; on the times people questioned her.

And as she reflected, she felt proud. Proud of “just never wavering,” she said. “Just being me. Unapologetically me.”

She thought about this because as she prepared for her fourth Olympics, and specifically Thursday’s bronze medal match against Australia, she knew, at age 39, the end was near. “I haven't made any official announcement yet,” she said Thursday night, “but obviously I'm at the tail end of my career.”

United States' Carli Lloyd celebrates scoring her side's 4th goal against Australia in the women's bronze medal soccer match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, in Kashima, Japan. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
United States' Carli Lloyd celebrates scoring her side's 4th goal against Australia in the women's bronze medal soccer match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, in Kashima, Japan. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

There’s a chance that Thursday was not her last competitive match for the national team — “Never rule her out,” teammate Kelley O’Hara said — but “there's always that chance that it may be,” Lloyd acknowledged.

So, when she arrived in Japan, she made a concerted effort to soak everything in.

At times, reflection doesn’t come easily to a woman who switches off only for sleep. Teammates see the unrelenting intensity at meals, in daily life. And of course in soccer too. After Monday’s semifinal loss to Canada, Lloyd crouched with her head in her hands, and then sat on a ball, pondering heartbreak. Then she got up and started running. Back and forth, up and down an empty field, not long after playing the semifinal’s last 30 minutes. Why?

“So I was ready for this one,” she said Thursday.

“This one,” the bronze medal match, also floated through her mind on the bus ride over. She thought about how she “just wanted to do everything possible to help this team win a medal.” When the game kicked off, she charged down Australian defenders as if she were a raging bull. Shortly before halftime, she got her goal, with an expert finish into the far corner. Shortly after halftime, she got a second, and became the USWNT’s top all-time Olympic goalscorer. She showed why she is still playing at age 39, why she sometimes laughs off age questions that she’s been getting for four years now.

“Physically, I feel really good,” she said Thursday, reiterating a message she’s spread far and wide.

Retirement, she also reiterated, will be a life decision more than a soccer one. It’ll be “wanting to start a family with my husband, just wanting to live,” she told Yahoo Sports last month. To go on vacation. To go skiing. To let loose, and eat a baked good or two, and not give her husband, Brian Hollins, a hard time when he devours one.

“I know my husband is eagerly waiting for me to switch off,” Lloyd said Thursday with a smile.

At no point in Thursday’s game did she appear ready. Her brain remained locked in. In the 81st minute, when she turned toward the sideline and saw her No. 10 on the fourth official’s electronic board, she did not appear eager to be subbed off, nor appreciative. A few teammates went in for momentous bear hugs, recognizing this would likely be the last time Lloyd exited an Olympic field. Lloyd accepted them, but didn’t fully reciprocate.

This time, though, after the final whistle, there was no running.

Next up on her agenda, before finishing the 2021 season with her NWSL club, Gotham FC: “Take two, three days, and sit by my pool, and not move, probably.”

“Two or three?!?” an incredulous observer asked.

Lloyd smiled, and conceded: “Maybe four.”

Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 14 slideshow embed
Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 14 slideshow embed

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