VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The history of soccer in America will not be written without this name: Carli Lloyd.
The United States star midfielder scored three times in the first half to vault the Americans to their third Women's World Cup title on Sunday with a 5-2 victory over Japan at B.C. Place. Lloyd scored from close, she scored from far and she scored a place in U.S. sports lore for a team that came together beautifully to vanquish all comers and now will stand aside the 1999 team as most cherished ever by a still-growing soccer nation.
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The theme of the team has been "She believes" and Lloyd made everyone believe within the first five minutes of the match, redirecting a shot from Megan Rapinoe at three minutes and then knocking in a second goal two minutes later.
Lauren Holiday scored on a volley in the 14th minute to make it 3-0, and then Lloyd's missile from the halfway line sailed over Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori to make it 4-0 in just the 16th minute.
The elated roar from Lloyd as she sprinted toward her teammates will be replayed for years and years. She is the first ever to score a hat trick in a World Cup final and was the second American to win Golden Ball honors as the tournament's top player.
"There was something different in the air," Lloyd said. "There was no hesitation, no doubt."
Japan fought back gamely, cutting it to 4-2 before Morgan Brian found Tobin Heath in the box for a lovely goal that squelched any momentum for good.
It is hard to fathom that Lloyd, who scored six goals in seven matches, looked completely lost in the early stages of this tournament. Head coach Jill Ellis added Morgan Brian into the lineup halfway through the fortnight and Lloyd took flight, bringing an overpowering shot that opponents simply could not stop.
"If you hit it hard enough," Lloyd said two days before the final, "and if you hit it in the right place, there aren't many goalies who can stop it."
Lloyd's creativity, quickness and spark turned a dull U.S. attack into something startling. She is the first American ever to score in four straight World Cup matches.
"It's crazy," said Glenn Crooks, Lloyd's former coach at Rutgers. "She's 32, and she's still getting better."
And backing her up was a midfield and defense that suffocated opponents almost without fail. The Americans' shutout streak ended Sunday at 540 minutes – the equivalent of six full matches – but it was every bit as important and historic as Lloyd's tournament.
A sweet signature moment came late in the match, when Abby Wambach subbed in and Lloyd took off her captain's armband and placed it on the U.S. legend. It was a gesture of gratitude from America's new sweetheart to a star who has carried the women's soccer torch for many years.
"I wanted to," Lloyd said. "I felt she deserved it."