Opinion: Goal the only thing missing from Carli Lloyd’s final game with USWNT

Carli Lloyd pulled off her jersey one last time to reveal another jersey underneath, this one with “Hollins,” her married name, on the back. 

One chapter of her life is ending. Another is just beginning. 

Lloyd, who has had as big an impact on the game as any American player, made her last appearance with the U.S. women on Tuesday night. Her husband, Brian Hollins, and her parents were there, as was her sister and nieces – one of whom was born just a few weeks ago. 

She was given a jersey with the number 316 on it, representing the number of games she played with the USWNT. A friend sang the national anthem. There were smiles and tears and laughter. 

It was a worthy send-off for the player who scored the game-winner in the gold-medal matches at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and personally outscored Japan in the 2015 World Cup final.

“This was,” Lloyd said after the 6-0 victory over South Korea, “one of the most special nights I’ve ever had in my life.”

All that was missing was a goal. 

Lloyd’s teammates tried repeatedly to set her up, with the best chance coming in the 27th minute. Mallory Pugh fed her at the top of the semi-circle on the 18-yard box, but Lloyd’s left-footed shot was off-balance and the ball sailed wide of the near post.

No matter, though. Lindsey Horan, who Lloyd has already “gifted” her No. 10, had scored in the ninth minute to give the Americans the only goal they would need.

Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle and Lynn Williams also scored in the USWNT’s final game of the year. 

“I was really happy we ended on a win,” Lloyd told the crowd after the game, “so thank you to my teammates for that one.”

Only one player, Kristine Lilly, has appeared in more games than the 316 Lloyd did over 16-plus years. Only three players – Canada’s Christine Sinclair and fellow Americans Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm – have scored more goals than Lloyd’s 134.

She was a two-time FIFA Player of the Year, joining Hamm as the only American to win the award multiple times. And she worked harder than anyone, using perceived slights and her own fears as fuel to make her better. 

At 39, she is still as fit and productive as players more than a decade younger. She scored twice in the bronze-medal match at the Tokyo Olympics, and had five – five! – in her first game with the USWNT after her retirement announcement.

But she has sacrificed enough for the game. In true Lloyd fashion, she wanted to go out on her terms, on her timetable, and that’s exactly what she did. 

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

She announced her retirement in mid-August, and has spent the last two months savoring her career and the genuine appreciation for it. Famously tunnel-visioned, she has been overcome with emotion on what feels like a daily basis. 

“It’s been mentally very draining. In a good way,” Lloyd said. “I’ve been going with it, rolling with it, letting the emotions flow out.”

There were more before the game when Hollins and her family joined her on the field. And there were more in the 65th minute, when coach Vlatko Andonovski replaced her with Alex Morgan so the crowd could give Lloyd her proper due. 

As Morgan stood on the sideline, Lloyd bent over, unlaced her shoes and took them off. She blew out her breath as teammates came to hug her. She took off the captain’s armband one last time and gave it to Megan Rapinoe, the two exchanging a long embrace.

Turning to salute the crowd, Lloyd raised her shoes in the air. She then took off the jersey that has defined her for almost two decades, leaving the field not as Carli Lloyd but Carli Hollins, yet another fan of the USWNT.

“I couldn’t have done this journey without him,” Lloyd said of Hollins, who she began dating in high school. “It’s kind of a tribute to the next chapter. This chapter is going to be about Brian and I.”

As fiercely competitive as she is, Lloyd is ready for whatever is next. Asked to reflect on her career often in the last week, the word she used most often was “hard.” It wasn’t just the games or the travel or the weeks away from home. 

It was all the days in between. It was the workouts in her garage or at local parks. It was the sprints she ran after games. The USWNT often makes what they do look easy, but only because they have worked so hard. 

It’s a culture – almost a sacred trust, really – that has been passed down from generation to generation. And in these last few weeks, Lloyd made sure her younger teammates knew what she was leaving behind.  

“We’ve all, separately and collectively, said we want to carry on her legacy of her work rate, her commitment,” Andi Sullivan said. “We need that. That’s what has made this team so successful, people like Carli. And the people before her who helped shape her and pave her way. 

“We’re going to use that as fuel, and use that to help us be successful in the future.”

Lloyd’s time with the USWNT might be over. But her impact on the team will continue to loom large for years to come.  

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

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *