It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

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They said I wasn’t fit.

They said I was too slow.

A turnover machine.

A defensive liability.

Only good at scoring goals.

Selfish.

Hard to manage.

Complicated.

Infuriating.

A black hole.

A bad teammate.

Too old.

And my personal favorite….

The weirdest world-class athlete ever.

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

I could go on and on. As a matter of fact, I actually keep a list of these little digs in the Notes app on my phone. It’s a long one. In my 17 years playing this beautiful game at the professional level, I’ve heard so many ugly things. A lot of athletes will tell you that they ignore the comments. That the words don’t sting. That it’s all just white noise. Well, I’m telling you now, as I prepare to say goodbye, that some of those words hurt me deeply.

I am — and I know this might come as a shock to some people — a human being. I’ve felt every emotion you can feel in this game. I’ve felt the highest highs, but I’ve also been sad, anxious, depressed, devastated, defeated. I’ve felt not worthy. I’ve felt misunderstood. I’ve felt everything.

And it’s funny because I know that when people hear the name Carli Lloyd, they probably think about someone who is ice cold. A killer. Maybe even a robot. But that’s not me. That’s never been me. I feel like that Carli Lloyd, the killer, was almost like a mask that I had to put on in order to survive all the things that were being thrown my way.

The thing the grown-ups don’t tell you when you’re a kid with a dream is that it’s not really about the ball. That’s the easy part. The game is the game. But the other game? The one that happens off the field? That game is a whole different beast. The politics, the media, the favoritism, the fakeness, the jealousy, the opinions, the travel, the empty hotel rooms, the loneliness, the unrelenting grind, the injuries, the slights, the disappointments….

It’s only a matter of time. Eventually, this game will break you.

The question — maybe the only question that matters — is whether or not you’re able to use the pain and the heartbreak as fuel.

Eventually, this game will break you. Carli Lloyd

I’ll never forget when I had a meeting with my first coach on the USWNT before the 2007 World Cup and he asked me what my goals were. And at that point, I was still a kid. A nobody. A bench player. I think I had scored once in my first 24 matches. And so, my coach asked me, “What’s your goal?”

I said, “I want to become the best player in the world.”

He just started chuckling. He thought I was either joking or delusional. And I don’t know why, but that moment really marked me. It made me realize how people saw me. I was never “in the plans.” I was never meant to be in the spotlight or on the cover of the magazines. I certainly was never meant to be the face of U.S. women’s soccer.

I was supposed to be a squad player. I was supposed to be a below average player. I was never meant for greatness, in the eyes of a lot of people.

I was just Carli Lloyd. Laser focused, with a chip on my shoulder, trying to prove people wrong. I made it my mission in life to make every single person eat their words. To do the impossible.

It's so surreal to me now when people show me all this love. When I see little girls holding up my jersey in the crowd. Or when I see people call me one of the GOATs, one of the legends of this game. A decade ago, I was so far away from that.

I had just missed my PK in the 2011 World Cup final, and then I’d gotten benched right before the 2012 London Olympics. In that moment, I actually thought my national team career was over. The coaching staff was doubting me. I was bottling up everything inside, not talking to anyone about the pressure I was feeling. And then one day I was doing a workout in the gym in my garage, and out of nowhere, I just started bawling. Everything became too overwhelming, and I broke. I probably cried for two or three days out in that garage, going through my workouts all alone, feeling like my time was up.

The fear of not knowing my future was eating away at my core.

But I still kept getting up every morning when the alarm went off. I kept dragging myself into the garage, onto the field and onto the track. I kept training three times a day before I left for London. Sometimes I was sobbing, feeling worthless, feeling like I was done. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I stayed the course.

Catherine Ivill/FIFA via Getty Images
Catherine Ivill/FIFA via Getty Images

And that’s the thing. I truly don’t think people understand the sacrifices involved in pursuing greatness, especially in sports, especially in soccer. It’s a trade-off. And it’s not a very fair one. You trade literally everything in your life — your significant other, your friends, your family, your free time, anything else you ever loved to do — and in return you get the chance to maybe, if everything goes right, represent your country in a World Cup or an Olympics every four years.

I put all my chips in. I had just turned 30. And it looked like it was over.

The only reason that my journey turned out the way it did was because of an injury. Shannon Boxx went down 16 minutes into the first match at the Olympics against France, and Pia called me off the bench. I didn’t even have a second to warm up. I had to seize the opportunity. This was my moment. This was my turning point. I never looked back from that point on. In fact, I never came off the field again in that tournament.

The rest, as they say, is history. I scored two goals in the final and we won gold. Three years later, at the World Cup, I scored a hat trick in the final against Japan, and all of a sudden, people were calling me “the GOAT.” I was America’s hero. I was in the spotlight. On the magazine covers. The late-night shows. I was this person that everyone wanted to talk to, overnight.

And it’s still so surreal to me, because three years before that, I was in my garage crying my eyes out, feeling like I was a failure, feeling like the dream was over.

I was not supposed to be who I became.

It wasn’t in the script.

And that’s what made it all so sweet.

Three years before that, I was in my garage crying my eyes out, feeling like I was a failureCarli Lloyd

You know, it’s really hard to say goodbye. It’s tough to find the right words. I’ve thought a lot about what I wanted to leave everybody with, as I prepare to pull on this national team jersey one last time. How can I sum up what 17 years actually feels like, and what it means to me?

The word that I keep coming back to is hard.

Hard.

It wasn’t a fairy tale.

It was really freaking hard.

And that’s the thing….

People see the glory. They see the parades. But they don’t see everything that goes into it.

Every single woman who pulls on that USWNT jersey and represents their country, they have sacrificed things that you wouldn’t imagine. We give our lives over to this game. Personally, I have gone through a lot of tough times. I have witnessed people close to me take advantage of me for their own benefit, I have been brainwashed and manipulated by some, and I even became separated from my family for 12 years — missing out on so many things. I pissed a lot of people off for being true to myself and not following the crowd. For not saying all the right things. I read and heard a lot of really hurtful things. I cried a lot of tears.

I put off starting a family. I put off having any semblance of a normal life. I gave every ounce of myself to this game for 17 straight years — never ever switching off.

And you know what? I would do it all again. In an instant.

Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images
Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

Call me what you will.

Selfish.

Complicated.

Infuriating.

A black hole.

The weirdest world-class athlete ever.

Say whatever you want. But just know that I gave you everything I had. I didn’t take any shortcuts. I didn’t kiss anybody’s ass. I was never anything but my true self.

When I said that I wanted to be great, they couldn’t help but laugh. They rolled their eyes. They thought I was delusional. They tried to hold me down.

But the girl from Jersey kept grinding.

She never quit.

She became a World Cup champion.

She became an Olympic gold medalist.

She became the best player in the world.

She wrote her own script.

She proved ‘em all wrong.