Carli Lloyd will take the same approach into this World Cup final, no matter her role

LYON, France — Four years after the defining moment of her career – a hat trick against Japan in the Women’s World Cup final that helped the United States hoist the trophy for a third time – Carli Lloyd remains pretty much the same.

She’s still got the same legendary competitiveness of NBA great Michael Jordan, the athlete she idolized as a kid growing up in South Jersey. She’s still got an edge when you talk to her; phrase a question a way she doesn’t like and she won’t hesitate to let you know.

And even now, at age 36, she’s still one of the most lethal scorers alive. With three strikes in just 191 minutes here at France 2019, she’s been the most efficient finisher at this World Cup, better than U.S. teammate Alex Morgan, who is tied for the tournament lead in goals.

The Americans are back in the title match after beating England 2-1 in Tuesday’s semifinal at Stade de Lyon, where they will play again on Sunday. Yet as much as things have stayed the same for Lloyd, they’ve also changed considerably over the last four years. Barring an injury to Morgan, and probably not even then, she won’t be in coach Jill Ellis’ starting 11 come game time (11 a.m. ET). But she’s still going to prepare as if she’s a lineup lock.

“There’s a lot of things that are out of your control in life, and you can either look at it as negative or you can look at it positive,” Lloyd said on Wednesday. “For whatever reason, that’s the decision, and I come in and it’s my job to make something happen.”

LYON, FRANCE - JULY 02: Carli Lloyd of the USA battles for possession with Demi Stokes of England during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Semi Final match between England and USA at Stade de Lyon on July 02, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
Carli Lloyd (left) helped kill time at the end of the United States' 2-1 win over England in Tuesday's World Cup semifinal. (Maddie Meyer/Getty)

From before the tournament even started, Lloyd has made it clear that she does not accept or particularly like her new super-sub role. She wants to play all the time, insists that she’s in the best shape of her life, as good a scorer as she was at the height of her powers.

No, scratch that: She believes she’s at the height of her powers right now.

“If I was satisfied with [coming off the bench] then I really shouldn’t be here,” she said between the first and second group stage games. “I know that my ability is there and if called on and needed to play 90 minutes I can do it. There’s honestly nothing there that’s holding me back, other than the coach’s decision.”

Yet Ellis has made it clear, through actions if not words, that there’s nothing Lloyd can do to win back her old job.

Those two goals against Chile in the group stage? Didn’t matter. Ellis meticulously picked her 23-player roster for this World Cup. Vets such as Morgan Brian, Ali Krieger and Allie Long are here because of their championship experience, sure, but also because Ellis knows they won’t rock the boat because they’re not playing. On the contrary — all three have embraced their new designation as mentors for the next generation.

Lloyd? She was more of a wild card, although by all accounts she’s been a model citizen.

“I haven’t sat here and pouted around and been a horrible teammate,” she said last month. “I’ve showed up every single day at training and been the hardest-working player I can be and been respectful of that decision. But also, when my chances have come, I’ve tried to seize those and take those opportunities.”

Those opportunities have dried up in the knockout stage, as have the goals. Yet Lloyd is still contributing. Her singleminded attitude was on full display at the end of the matches against Spain, France and especially on Tuesday vs. England, her hard running and clever game management eating up valuable time at the end of the match.

“The last few games I’ve come in and had 10 minutes,” she said. “It’s my job to close out those games.”

Now the final awaits. Before boarding the team bus on Wednesday, a TV reporter made the mistake of suggesting that another hat trick in this World Cup final is unlikely.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen Sunday,” she said. “It’s all about just being ready.”

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