USWNT legend Carli Lloyd defied Father Time in quest of gold within the Olympics on the age of 39
If the Olympic Games in Tokyo had been held as planned in 2020, Carli Lloyd would have been a whole year younger. She would have turned 38 right before the games instead of 39 – which, to be honest, is still unusually old for a professional footballer. Maybe those extra 12 months really don’t mean that much.
Or maybe they made Lloyd even better at the sport in which she is already a legend.
“I actually feel better,” she told Sporting News after the US women’s national team beat Jamaica 4-0 on Sunday night. “And I don’t think if it had been played in 2020 a number of different things would not have happened.
“My family wouldn’t have been there. I would not have had an operation on my knee. I changed my strength regimen and started working with a guy at home. I have a new coach that I do ball work with. So I feel like I’ve moved from thinking that I will keep getting better to a completely different level. I’ve never been so fit, fast, explosive. “
If it seems unlikely that there could be another level beyond excellence for a middle-aged athlete, then you ignored the sports world in 2021. Tom Brady, who already owns six Super Bowl rings, won seventh place at the age of 43. year old quarterback. Golfer Phil Mickelson clinched a sixth major title with a PGA Championship triumph at the age of 50. Helio Castroneves, who was essentially discarded by his racing team in his mid-40s, won a fourth Indianapolis 500 at the age of 46.
Lloyd doesn’t seem to belong in this age group at first glance, but he understands the nature of the sport and the constant, year-round exposure makes football players age faster. Mia Hamm played her last game for the USWNT at the age of 32. Abby Wambach finished at 35. Landon Donovan, the greatest USMNT player, was dropped from the 2014 World Cup team at the age of 32. Zinedine Zidane soon ended his career with a World Cup triumph after finishing 34th.
Lloyd will celebrate her 39th birthday on July 16, and it will be a big festival if that happens in Japan as she prepares to open the Games against archenemy Sweden five days later. She has won two world cups and two Olympic gold medals. She has played 303 international matches, the third place in the history of world football, and scored 125 international goals, making it sixth. Against Jamaica, she became the oldest player to ever score for the USWNT, and she scored that goal after 23 seconds in the game as if getting it there was important before time catches up with her (video below).
It still could. If the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t postponed the Olympics this summer, putting the U.S. squad on might have been a slightly less brutal challenge. Veteran striker Alex Morgan would have been Charlie just two months after the birth of her daughter, and Lloyd had excelled in that position while Morgan was absent. Lynn Williams had just returned to the national team despite showing a good performance and scoring the game winner in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Final against Canada. The promising Midge Purce hardly had a hat on her name.
Unlike the World Cup, where teams can bring 23 players to a seven-game tournament for the winner and runner-up, the Olympics only accept 18 players per team for the six games required to win a gold medal. For his first tournament as USWNT head coach, Vlatko Andonovski has to make some agonizing decisions due to the abundance of talented players. He must weigh any desire to gain important international tournament experience for younger players, understanding that the main objective is to select the team most likely to win the gold medal.
“It’s extremely difficult but I think the closer we get the easier it will be,” Andonovski told Sporting News. “With the analysis we can do and the evaluation, it becomes clearer. If we had 23 it would be difficult to get rid of players number 24, 25 and 26. It’s always difficult.
“We have a very deep roster … whatever the number, it will always be difficult.”
Perhaps because there was no schedule for the national team to consume them, Lloyd took the opportunity to make some massive life changes in 2020. She parted ways with long-time coach James Galanis, who had become something of a personal “guru” for the player who scored the winning goals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 2015.
Working with Galanis was a factor in Lloyd’s ongoing break with her family that lasted more than a decade. After Lloyd ended that affiliation, she called her parents and began mending that relationship.
She is now hoping for one final gold medal and insists that her desire to experience a life beyond professional sport – not at her advanced age – will end her career. The only concession to appear so close to her 40th birthday was to switch to the center-forward, a position that normally doesn’t take up as much space as the midfielder.
However, as is typical of Lloyd, she worked hard to master the position, including film studies of the game’s best strikers to learn their tricks and techniques. She had made the move prior to USWNT’s 2019 World Cup triumph, appearing in all seven games and scoring three goals for coach Jill Ellis, but Andonovski’s arrival meant she had to relearn how to play as a center-forward.
“The way position # 9 was played was a little different with Jill,” said Lloyd. “We didn’t get a lot of press, we didn’t do certain things. I feel like the way Vlatko wants our team to play somehow suits me. I love high pressing. I love putting pressure on defenders and opponents. From the time Vlatko came on board, I was literally just a sponge trying to continuously improve and develop my game. “
Lloyd is famous for the personal insults she took as motivation, starting with her bench press before the 2012 Olympics, which ended with two hits in the gold medal match. Before the 2019 World Cup, she was reluctant to have accepted the role of “super sub” and stressed to SN that she was still fighting for a starting place every day.
In the early hours of Monday, Lloyd told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s excellent football writer Jonathan Tannenwald that she was bothering to let him predict that she would not make the Olympics list, and that she was particularly annoyed that The Inquirer was essentially a hometown newspaper for someone who grew up 14 miles away in Delran, NJ Tannenwald, but had only suggested that Lloyd was “on the bladder”, as they say, for selection.
“I don’t think I can answer a player directly, not just Carli, every player on this team, until I really have to,” Andonovski told Tannenwald. “I will say that I was happy with their performance: come in, score the goal, set the pace for the team and look good overall, not only in this game, but also in previous games and in training. I think it’s in a really good place. “