Forget the celebrations for a second. Sure, Carli Lloyd’s golf clap was a perfect response to last week’s anti-USWNT backlash, but it’s really the footnote from Sunday’s comprehensive 3-0 drubbing of Chile, particularly as it pertains to the United States’ chances of becoming the second team in Women’s World Cup history to win two tournaments in a row. What I’m taking away from Sunday’s match, and from last Tuesday’s demolition of Thailand, is that Lloyd is on a mission to leave this tournament in a state of scorched earth. The USWNT should be grateful for her rage.
Prior to the tournament, Lloyd was characteristically frank about being relegated to a super sub role for this, her fourth World Cup: she told the Los Angeles Times that “of course” she’s not okay with a spot on the bench, before arguing her case in the press:
Nothing’s really changed since 2005 when I first got on this team. I made a choice to be 100%, 100% of the time. That means grinding every single day. That means preserving through challenging situations.
In some ways, Lloyd is right; as a midfielder for the NWSL’s most dysfunctional side, Sky Blue FC, she still tallied four goals on 51 shot attempts in the 2018 season. Despite losing some of the athleticism that made her a 5-foot-7 terror earlier this decade, she’s still one of the surest bets to make something happen in front of goal for the United States. For a team that is not lacking in goals so far—but which has yet to face a truly elite defense, like, say, France’s, which looms in a potential quarterfinal matchup—Lloyd’s ability to ignore tactics and common sense in order to pepper the goal with chances will become more valuable as the stakes get higher in the knockout rounds.
But Lloyd is almost 37 (her birthday is shortly after the World Cup), she has significantly more miles on her body that anyone else on the team (she has 276 appearances for the national team; second place is Alex Morgan with 164), and she just can’t go a full 90 against top opposition, Chile notwithstanding. Her take-ons are still as deadly as ever (four successful out of five against the South Americans), but their frequency has dropped. Plus, if you’ve got a per-minute superstar on your team, why wouldn’t you maximize that efficiency by bringing her on against tired (or lesser) defenses?
That’s what much-maligned USWNT manager Jill Ellis has done through two games, and Lloyd has rewarded her strategy by playing like a madwoman. In about 120 minutes of game time across both games, Lloyd has shot 15 times. Fifteen! That’s one shot roughly every eight minutes, with eight of those going on target (and, of course, three goals).
And these aren’t speculative shots, either; usually high-volume shooters pad their stats with long-range efforts, but Lloyd has shot 14 of her 15 shots inside the box. Her most difficult attempt was probably the one that led to the nicest USWNT goal of the tournament so far: her first tally against Chile saw her essentially steal the ball from teammate Julie Ertz to blast it past human wall Christiane Endler in the 11th minute of Sunday’s match:
(This was also the golf clap goal, for those keeping score at home.)
For the United States to lift the trophy once again early next month, a lot of things will have to go right and a lot of their elite players will have to show up on the scoresheet; Morgan still leads the tournament in goals with five, despite not playing on Sunday, and Lindsey Horan was once again a dominant brick house in the midfield before being subbed out for rest purposes in the 59th minute. Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, Ertz, etc. The U.S. is stacked, and at any point in time, any of those players could pop off and win games on their own.
But no one on the team has more of a history, or a more perfect set of motivations, to do just that than Lloyd. She has always played with a fury, using her strength and on-ball skills to punish whoever dared to line up against her. Now she’s got Ellis’s decision to bench her on her mind, and a World Cup record for scoring in six straight matches dating back to 2015. She also missed a penalty against Chile, missing out on her first World Cup hat trick since her famous one in the 2015 World Cup final. If you think that won’t piss her off even more, particularly with 2016 Summer Olympics arch-rival Sweden next on the schedule, you haven’t been paying attention.