121212_lloydmorgan_isi_uswntolyjt0728121361 John Todd/isiphotos.com

The Quiet, Unassuming Redemption of Carli Lloyd

Alex Morgan got the headlines for the United States national team in 2012, but it was the play of an unsung star that deservers the highest praise. ASN tackles the Year of Carli Lloyd.
BY Maura Gladys Posted
December 12, 2012
10:42 AM
In individual terms, 2012 will be remembered as the year of Alex Morgan. The 23-year-old, who earned her first cap in March 2010, had one of the most impressive statistical calendar years in U.S. women’s soccer history. And there is nothing Americans love more than a rise from obscurity to greatness.

But while we will recall 2012 through an Alex Morgan-tinted lens, in actuality and in fact, it will have been the Year of Carli Lloyd. Once a lock at center mid, Lloyd struggled in 2011, lost her starting spot, and was in danger of falling out of the national team altogether. But then Lloyd did the one thing Americans love even more than a meteoric rise to greatness: She redeemed herself. As 2012 turns into 2013, she is back in the USWNT conversation, competing for a starting, and a starring role.

Lloyd's journey is as impressive as it is underrated. She broke onto the scene in 2007, scoring four goals and garnering MVP honors at the 2007 Algarve Cup. She started three games at the 2007 Women’s World Cup.

Lloyd proved to be the quintessential American central midfielder, possessing good vision and instinct, slick passing and control, and most of all, strength and power. Lloyd could boss the midfield like no other, and whenever she wound up for a shot outside the penalty area, she’d release a cracker. Partnered with stalwart defensive midfielder Shannon Boxx, Lloyd was expected to carry the U.S. midfield into the future. With Abby Wambach out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to a broken leg, and most of the members of the legendary 1999 team already retired, Lloyd was one of the main players expected to lead the team to greatness.

She did just that, netting a career-defining Olympic gold-medal winning goal against Brazil in overtime in Beijing.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would score the goal to get us the Olympic gold,” she said after the game.

After a quiet 2009 for the USWNT and a broken ankle in 2010, Lloyd was poised to spearhead the U.S. midfield at the 2011 Women’s World Cup, but she wasn’t able to find her game. She scored one goal and skied several more shots well over the bar. She lost the ball in center of the midfield too often, and the partnership with Boxx, which was supposed to be flourishing, failed. She played almost every minute of the tournament, but critics called for Lloyd to be benched in favor of younger, more dynamic players like Lauren Cheney and Tobin Heath.

Lloyd subtly, and unintentionally, morphed into one of the most polarizing members of the team in the eyes of fans, who were split between those who wanted younger talent and others who supported Lloyd’s traditional skill set and her clutch timing.

Pia Sundhage wasn't listening to the critics, but Lloyd started the 2012 Olympics on the bench. She only found playing time after Shannon Boxx suffered an injury in the first game. Like the clutch player she is, she took advantage of it, scoring two goals during group play, and the only two goals in the Stars and Stripes’ 2-1 win over Japan in the gold medal game.

“The thing with Carli Lloyd is we didn’t have her in the starting lineup before the Olympics,” Sundhage said after the game. “She has proven that I was wrong. Today, I think she was one of the best players. I'm so proud of her because she played so many games and all of a sudden I thought she wasn't good enough. Then she just comes back and helps the team tremendously and she proved that I was wrong. I love that.”

Lloyd doesn’t have the speed or positioning instincts of Morgan, is less adept in the air than Wambach, isn’t gifted with the slick moves of Heath or the vision of Cheney. But Lloyd has proven, twice now, that she rises to the biggest occasions. She can score goals that matter for the United States. Lloyd has also proven that she is resilient. Not only did she seize the opportunity in London, she balanced the difficult task of playing Boxx’s role on the defensive end while still pushing up and providing support offensively.

Newly-appointed head coach Tom Sermanni will have a difficult decision to make with Lloyd back in form. He now has Lloyd, Boxx, Heath and Cheney as viable central midfield options.

Lloyd scored against China on Saturday night, and she has two more opportunities to add to her goal tally for the year. But with Lloyd, it's never about the goals; it's about the journey to get them.

Maura Gladys works in production for KICKTV. She also runs the goalkeeping blog All You Need Is Glove.

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