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Carli Lloyd has spent much of her career playing club soccer in her home state of New Jersey.
The USWNT legend currently suits up for the NWSL's Gotham FC - rebranded from Sky Blue FC this year.
Lloyd spoke to Insider about the club's transformation from bottom dweller to title contender.
Winning has become second nature for Carli Lloyd and the ever-dominant US Women's National Team.
But victory hasn't always come easy for Lloyd, who has played for various bottom-dwelling teams throughout her club career.
Finally, the 38-year-old's recent efforts in the National Women's Soccer League are coming to fruition; her Gotham FC squad - formerly known as Sky Blue FC - is headed to the NWSL Challenge Cup final after many years playing the role of the league's punching bag.
"I've always been on a club where we're not stacked with the most amazing talent," Lloyd told Insider while discussing her new partnership with CBDMEDIC, a CBD pain-relief brand.
"I like to challenge myself, so the markets I've been in have been tough, have been challenging. And I think that it's built character throughout. It's pushed me harder to rise to the occasion, to help bring my teammates on my back a little bit."
"So with Sky Blue into Gotham FC now, we've really come a long way," she added.
That may be an understatement. Though the inaugural season of Women's Professional Soccer - the predecessor to the NWSL - saw Sky Blue become unlikely champions, the pro soccer club based in the New York and New Jersey market has only earned a winning record twice in its 10 seasons of existence. Lloyd was not part of the team for either of those campaigns.
And just a few years ago, Sky Blue was embroiled in controversy when reports of squalid living and practice conditions for players went viral - even in circles beyond the NWSL.
Some of the world's top soccer players lived in homes with trash bags and cardboard for windows, while the entire team - Lloyd included - practiced at a facility without running water. The club's lackluster facilities contributed to both of its first-round picks in the 2019 NWSL Draft picks refusing to suit up for the team and instead taking their talents overseas.
"These girls are great girls. They give everything for this club and this league, and they just deserve better. I scored a hat trick, but I wasn't myself today. I feel sick playing against these girls."
But the club has enjoyed a meteoric rise since its lowest point just a few years back. After winning just one game in 2018, Sky Blue found new ownership, new coaching and front office staff, and a new look - rebranding to NJ/NY Gotham FC ahead of its 2021 NWSL campaign.
And perhaps most significant of all, the team has a new home fitting of its professional status. Gotham will play its home matches at Red Bull Arena - a 25,000-seat stadium in Harrison, New Jersey - beginning with its first game of the NWSL 2021 regular season in mid-May. The stadium is home to the MLS' New York Red Bulls
"I mean, to be able to play at Red Bull, to train at Red Bull, it's the way that it should be," Lloyd told Insider. "It's a proper club. We have a great group of players, good people. There's still room for improvement, I think anywhere and everywhere, but it's great."
The team has found success on the pitch, too. Since ending the 2020 Challenge Cup in second-to-last place, Lloyd and company have steadily climbed up the league rankings. A surprise fourth-place finish in the 2020 Fall Series helped fuel a stellar 2021 Challenge Cup campaign that has seen Gotham reach the top of the East Division table.
And now, Lloyd will look to celebrate her squad's surge by lifting up the first trophy of her lengthy NWSL career.
Gotham will take on league powerhouse Portland Thorns - who Lloyd said "always have a very talented group" - at a "neutral site" in the City of Roses for this year's Challenge Cup crown.
"It's exciting - we're heading to a Challenge Cup championship," Lloyd said. "Although the neutral site is in Portland, I'm going to have to take it to them. So it's actually motivation for that."
Gotham's championship matchup against the Thorns kicks of Saturday at 1 p.m. ET and will air on CBS.
Read the original article on Insider