Carli Lloyd, arguably the best big-game player in U.S. soccer history, announced her retirement from international competition Monday following a 17-year career in which she was twice named FIFA world player of the year.
Lloyd, 39, also won two Olympic gold medals — delivering the winning goal in both finals — and two World Cup titles. During this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, Lloyd scored twice in the third-place game to give the U.S. a bronze medal.
Lloyd will play the remainder of the NWSL season with NJ/NY Gotham FC as well as in the anticipated four-game fall series for the national team before stepping aside completely. Details for the fall series matches have not been announced by U.S. Soccer. She’ll go into those final four international games with 312 caps, second all-time behind Kristine Lilly’s 354.
How impactful was Lloyd? The U.S. lost just 17 of the 312 games she played in.
She also scored 128 goals, tied for fifth all-time — that’s all-time for men and women — while her 64 career assists are sixth-best all-time for the U.S.
Lloyd went to Tokyo saying she was undecided about retirement. But she hinted strongly during the tournament that a decision had already been made.
“I’m not going to lie. I miss having a normal life,” she said. “I miss home, my family, friends. This is what you sacrifice every four years, every five years. It’s all part of it.
“Eventually, it comes to an end. So just try to savor every moment.”
Lloyd recently reconciled with her family after a decade of estrangement and said making up for that lost time figured in this decision. Lloyd, who married five years ago, also said she wants to start a family.
“I know my husband is eagerly waiting for me to switch off,” she said.
Lloyd was never the most talented player but was always the hardest worker. And with help from James Galanis, a former Australian professional who became her trainer and, Lloyd said, her guru, she developed into a player good enough to appear in 25 World Cup matches and 22 Olympic games, the most world championship appearances by a U.S. player. Her 10 goals in Olympic competition are the most by an American and she also scored 10 World Cup goals, including three in the first 17 minutes of the 2015 final.
“Carli Lloyd is a true legend,” said U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski, the fifth national manager she played for. “Her career was unique and her success on the field is something all current and future national team players should aspire to achieve. The way she approached her everyday training and career as a professional is truly impressive and I’ve been honored to coach her.”
Added former teammate Kate Markgraf, now the national team’s general manager: “Carli has been the embodiment of the DNA of a USWNT player. She goes down as one of the best in the history of the program.”
Lloyd, a three-time All-American at Rutgers, made her senior national team debut in 2005, a few days before her 23rd birthday. But she made her biggest contributions after turning 30, appearing in U.S.-record 177 international games and scoring a record 92 goals. She also is the oldest player to lead the national team in scoring in a calendar year with 16 in the World Cup year of 2019, when she was 37.
That defiance of age is testament to a relentless work ethic that saw her running wind sprints in an empty stadium in Japan a half-hour after the U.S. lost its Olympic semifinal to Canada.
But Lloyd’s unwavering dedication and the fact she played best with a chip on her shoulder — sometimes creating that chip herself, if need be — could cause riffs with teammates and coaches, often leaving Lloyd isolated. Even that was something she embraced, however.
“Through all the goals, the trophies, the medals and the championships won, what I am most proud of is that I’ve been able to stay unapologetically me,” Lloyd said in a statement released by U.S. Soccer. “My journey has been hard, but I can honestly say I’ve stayed true to myself, to my teammates, to my coaches, the media and the fans throughout my career.
“Everyone sees the moments of glory, but I have cherished the world behind the scenes and the adversity that I’ve had to overcome to get to those glorious moments.”
Lloyd so revels in her quiet dedication she titled her 2016 memoir “When Nobody Was Watching.”
“When I first started out with the national team my two main goals were to be the most complete soccer player I could be and to help the team win championships,” said Lloyd, the only player, male or female, to score the winning goal in two Olympic finals. “Every single day I stepped out onto the field I played as if it was my last game. I never wanted to take anything for granted, especially knowing how hard it is to get to the top.
“But [it’s] even harder to stay at the top for so long.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.