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The U.S. women’s national soccer team cemented their legendary status with their 2019 World Cup championship. Get to know four of the team’s most talented players and prominent stars: the steadfast Carli Lloyd, superstar Alex Morgan, newcomer Mallory Pugh, and fearless Megan Rapinoe.
The Kick Seen Round the World
Let me just bomb this from the mid stripe. What the heck…
That was the thought that crossed Carli Lloyd’s mind a split second before she launched the most famous kick in the history of women’s soccer. As the ball sailed half the length of the field, more than fifty thousand fans leaped to their feet in Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium. Millions more watching at home held their breath.
On the field, Carli and the rest of Team USA followed the ball with their eyes, their bodies, and their hearts. “It felt like an eternity watching the ball soar through the air,” Carli recalled. “I saw the keeper [Japan’s Ayumi Kaihori] backing up, and I was like, No! And then I saw her reaching back, and I was like, No! I saw it brush her fingertips.”
Everyone agonized with her. And then—
“Off the post and in!” a television announcer screamed.
“This is absolutely world-class,” a second announcer enthused.
Back home, friends and fans jumped for joy, hugged, and shouted with amazement. The deafening roar inside the stadium grew even louder as Carli raced across the field, arms raised in celebration and a mile-wide grin on her face, to fling herself into the crushing embrace of her teammates.
That amazing goal all but sealed the victory for the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) over Japan in the 2015 Women’s World Cup finals. Unbelievably, it wasn’t Carli’s first goal of the game. It wasn’t even her second. That long bomb was her third. Even more astounding, she scored the hat trick in just sixteen minutes! No player, male or female, had ever racked up that many goals in so short a period in any World Cup final game.
“It was the greatest individual performance in a World Cup final ever,” one sports journalist reported the next day. “End of discussion.”
Lloyd made that third goal look almost effortless. But those who have followed her career know that the road to that moment was anything but smooth. Rewind her timeline twelve years, and you’ll see a very different Carli Lloyd. Not the powerful athlete who unleashed a blast that catapulted her into soccer history, but a tearful twenty-one-year-old on the brink of leaving the sport forever.
Dial back even further, though, and you’ll find a young girl who couldn’t wait to lace up her cleats and hit the field.
Carli Lloyd was born on July 16, 1982, the oldest of three children in the Lloyd family. Her parents, Stephen and Pamela, worked hard to provide a good home in Delran, New Jersey, a small town about twenty minutes outside Philadelphia, for Carli, Stephen Junior, and Ashley. From a very early age, Carli was an athletic tomboy who preferred mowing the lawn to playing dress-up and baseball cards to Barbie dolls. “You [would] never find a ribbon or a bow on me,” she said of her childhood self.
Carli started playing soccer when she was five years old. Her father helped coach her team, the Delran Dynamite. Her other coach, Karen Thorton, got the most out of players with her positivity and sense of fun. Together, the two coaches encouraged Carli and her teammates to enjoy the sport, not live and breathe it.
That came later for Carli.
Even at that young age, Carli stood out as a star with natural talent. She absorbed coaching the way a sponge absorbs water. If the Dynamite fell behind, she did whatever she could to get them back in the game. Sometimes, that meant taking charge of the ball—which is exactly what she did during one game when she was eleven.
The Dynamite was down a goal when Carli collected the ball from her keeper. Knowing they needed to score, she took off, dribbling around one defender, finding a gap between two others, and charging down the length of the field until she was within scoring range of the opponent’s goal. Then—pow! She unleashed a kick. The ball rocketed past the keeper and—swish!—billowed the strings of the net.
Whether the game ended in a win, loss, or tie, Carli doesn’t recall. Three things did stick with her, however. One, she had just made a really big play; two, she liked making big plays; and three, she might not have made that big play if she hadn’t put in extra practice on her own.
Whenever she had free time at home, day or night, Carli took a ball to the street outside her house. There, she practiced her footwork and ball control with her favorite partner: a particular stretch of Black Baron Drive’s curb. The curb was long, but it was no more than a few inches high. Kick the ball too high, and she’d have to chase it into a neighbor’s yard. Hit it too hard, and the rebound might be too tough to control. Find that sweet spot, though, and she could play against the curb for hours.
And she did—by her own estimate, she bounced her ball against that curb for close to two thousand passes a day, every day, for nearly ten years!
Carli also spent hours playing pickup games with whoever happened to be playing at the neighborhood soccer field. Being her own boss on the field gave her new insights into how the game could be played. With the freedom to think for herself, she learned to “read” the field, anticipate how the action might unfold, and improvise creative ways to make the most of passing, scoring, and other offensive opportunities.
By the time she was twelve, Carli’s skill level had outgrown what the town league could offer. So as much as she loved playing for the Dynamite, she decided to try out for a more competitive team, the South Jersey Select.
The Select was one of the area’s top-tier squads. The tryouts drew crowds of girls from across the region. All were vying for just a handful of spots. Carli worked hard to impress the evaluators with her ball-handling ability and overall athleticism. But she feared what she showed them wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t. She got cut.
Not seeing her name on the roster was “a colossal, crush-my-world setback,” Carli said. Her interest in soccer had grown leaps and bounds since she’d first started playing. She was even beginning to daydream about a career playing her favorite sport. Being told she wasn’t good enough was a devastating blow.
Yet it might have been the best thing that could have happened to her.
Denied a slot on the Select, she found her way onto a different team for players under the age of thirteen, the Medford Strikers club. It was a match made in heaven, with a coach, Joe Dadura, who was as nurturing as he was competitive, supportive parents who traveled with their daughters to distant tournaments, and best of all, friendly teammates who welcomed her drive, energy, and kooky sense of fun. “It was honestly one of the best teams that I’ve ever been part of,” she told a reporter years later.
Small and quick, with a mischievous playfulness, Carli earned a reputation as a lovable pain in the butt off the field. When she ran onto the field and took her position at center midfield, though, she was all seriousness.
Center midfielders are the link between the offensive forwards and the defenders. When a goalkeeper or defender clears the ball from their team’s half of the field, the center middie helps move it toward the opponent’s goal by dribbling or passing it up to the offense. She can attack the goal herself, too, if she gets the chance. When the ball heads toward her own goal, she switches to defense, plugging up holes, stealing the ball with careful tackles, and intercepting passes. It’s a tough job that takes a lot of mental focus, heads-up play, and ball-handling skill.
Carli brought all that and something more to the field: a competitive drive that was off the charts! In 1996, when she was fourteen, her talent and desire to win earned her a spot in the Olympic Development Program, an organization that invites elite youth players to training camps, where their potential as future members of the US National Team is evaluated. She was excited by the idea that she might one day represent the United States on the international stage.
But when she got to the weeklong training camp at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, that excitement was replaced with other emotions. “I [was] a mess of nerves and anxiety the whole week,” Carli confessed later.
As bad as her homesickness was, her crippling self-doubt was even worse. From almost the moment she arrived, she convinced herself that she didn’t belong. That her skills were subpar compared to the other girls’. That she was subpar, and that there was no way she’d make the final roster of eighteen.
It’s hard to perform your best when your mind is whispering that you don’t stand a chance. When the roster came out, Carli’s name wasn’t on it.
For some players, two rejections in two years would be enough to crush their dreams for good. And Carli was crushed—no doubt about it. But she refused to let her dream die. Instead, she focused on the lesson she’d learned: training her feet and body weren’t enough. To be the best player she could be, she had to work on her self-confidence, too.
She had a huge supporter in that area, a young teen named Brian Hollins, who years later would become her husband. The two started out as neighborhood friends, then began dating in high school. An athlete himself with a passion for golf—he joined the Philadelphia Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) after college—Brian understood Carli’s drive to improve, to give soccer her all. He also knew she needed to learn to believe in herself. When those whispers of self-doubt crept into her mind, he stood ready to quiet them, something he still does for her today.
Fourteen-year-old Carli, now a freshman in high school, began to devote herself to soccer. Every fall for the next four years, she suited up for Delran High School as their center midfielder. Her impressive abilities and exciting style of play earned her statewide recognition. In 1999 and 2000, her junior and senior seasons, she was named High School Player of the Year by the Philadelphia Inquirer and to the Parade All-American Team. She was also the Courier Post Player of the Year and Burlington County Player of the Year, and in 2000, the choice of South Jersey Soccer Coaches Association for Midfielder of the Year. With Carli on the field, Delran High rocketed to an 18–3 record her senior year and a near-miss at winning the state tournament.
Those same four years, Carli continued playing for the Medford Strikers, helping lead the club to back-to-back state championships in 1997 and 1998. The club, and Carli in particular, received regular recognition in the sports section of local newspapers.
Word of the dynamic young midfielder began to reach the attention of college coaches. Soon, offers to come play for their schools poured in. Carli decided to play for the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers University because it was in her home state of New Jersey. Although she was a long way away from the homesick fourteen-year-old she used to be, going to school in a familiar area would no doubt make the transition from home to college easier.
It was a perfect fit right from the start. Carli made friends with the girls on the team and clicked with Coach Glenn Crooks. She not only rose to the new challenges of competing against top-notch teams around the mid-Atlantic region, she thrived on it. Crooks recognized her talent and gave her ample playing time her freshman year. She repaid his confidence by racking up an unbelievable season total of fifteen goals, assisting her teammates on seven others, and helping the Scarlet Knights to a stellar 14–8–1 record. She was named Rookie of the Year, an All-American athlete, and a First Team All-Big East selection.
Her impressive college career continued the following three years. As a sophomore, she drilled in twelve goals and seven assists for thirty-one points, earned her second All-American honor and First Team All-Big East selection, and was a semifinalist for the prestigious Hermann Trophy, given to the country’s top college soccer player.
While earning these outstanding stats and nationwide recognition, Carli was simultaneously zeroing in on the next big step in her soccer career: the Under-21 Women’s National Team. She made the squad in 2002 after her sophomore season. If she performed well, she had a shot at trying out for the full USWNT. That summer, she traveled with the U-21 team to Finland for the Nordic Cup, a small annual tournament for U-21 teams from Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Iceland, Canada, and the United States. She didn’t end up playing many minutes, but the coach, Jerry Smith, liked her energy and her drive.
“Carli Lloyd isn’t a finished product,” he told others in the soccer community, “but she’s got stuff you can’t teach.”
Carli returned to the weeklong U-21 training camp in January 2003. She’d just finished her junior season with Rutgers, another phenomenal effort that saw her chalking up twenty-eight points with thirteen goals and two assists and taking home her third All-American honor and First Team All-Big East selection. She arrived at camp feeling confident and ready.
Then she met the new head coach, Chris Petrucelli. Right from the start, she had trouble reading him. Did he like what he saw in her or not? Self-doubt set in and lingered through the later camps in March and April.
At the end of that third camp, she found out what Petrucelli thought of her. She was very talented, he said. But he questioned her fitness and her willingness to put in the extra work. Then he delivered the final blow: “I simply can’t put you on the roster.”
With that stinging assessment ringing in her ears, Carli returned to her room at the camp and broke down sobbing.
I’m done, she remembered thinking then. I’m completely done. She called her parents back in Delran. Through her tears, she told them that she’d been cut from the team. Then she revealed she was contemplating giving up soccer for good.
Her parents were devastated. They’d been staunch supporters from the start, shelling out whatever money was needed to provide her with gear and team fees, traveling far and wide to tournaments, and bolstering her confidence when it dipped low. They knew it was her dream to play for Team USA. They believed it was a dream that could still come true. She just needed help getting there.
Her father believed he knew where to find that help: the Medford Strikers.
- On Sale
- Jan 14, 2020
- Page Count
- 176 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers