I’D FEEL REMISS IF I didn’t take a moment today to honor the living, breathing life lesson that is Carli Lloyd, the author of the Foreword for our book, “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions.” She played in her 300th game yesterday, April 10, 2021, for the U.S. Women’s National Team, venturing into territory only ever matched by two other women: Christie Pearce, at 311 games, and the indomitable Kristine Lilly, who played for 23 years and 354 games. I don’t think it’s outlandish or hyperbole to predict this out loud: no one else from the U.S. will ever join this club.
Part of that is because times have changed. As Kristine noted in our book, she joined the National Team at 16, an age so young that she once arrived late at a U.S. training camp because she chose to play a high school softball game instead. Christie, four years younger than Kristine, played in an era when kids still participated in whatever sport was in season; by all accounts she was the embodiment of The Natural, leading her high school in scoring in basketball, field hockey, track and soccer. Others have theorized that she could have been an Olympic pentathlete if the National Team hadn’t swept her exclusively into soccer.
Carli, however, came of age in the era of sports specialization — after Kristine and Christie, along with Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Briana Scurry and others made making the National Team part of the American dream for legions of young girls. Carli was never the best athlete. She wasn’t even the best player in the eastern region of the country; that designation, back in the day, went to my co-author, Joanna Lohman, who beat Carli to the National Team by four years.
That’s why I think Carli Lloyd represents one of the great American success stories. Period. A master of reinvention, she rebuilt herself and her game when an Under-21 coach named Chris Petrucelli told her she lacked the fitness and the mental fortitude for the National Team. “Ninety-nine percent of the players you tell that to will blame the messenger,” Chris told us in our book. “To Carli’s credit, she owned it and she did something about it.”
It can also be argued that no one in National Team history has had more big-game goals than Carli, yet her starting position — even her place on the team — has been in doubt virtually her entire career. She’s gone from striker and scorer, to defending midfielder, to attacking midfielder and back again more times than most people can count. She breaks down her body and rebuilds herself the way Tiger Woods used to re-tool his golf swing every few years. “You can never, ever get complacent for one second or someone will take your spot,” she told us in one of our many interviews.
Even after “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions” was written and ready for the printer, we caught wind that Carli was in the midst of yet another personal makeover. This time, she said, she was going it alone in training for the 2021 Olympics — without the mentor to whom she dedicated her 2016 book — and she was also reconciling with her parents and siblings after so many years apart. At her request, we stopped the presses and re-wrote an entire chapter. The final photo inserted into the book was Carli with her parents and two siblings at Thanksgiving of 2020. Her life lessons are scattered throughout our pages, from “speak your mind,” to “stay loyal to your friends,” to “stay focused, even when everything else in life will try to pull you away from your goal.” Her latest message, however, was equally important: at the end of the day, even as you approach 300 appearances and 16 years proving and re-proving yourself to all the doubters, family matters a hell of a lot.
The prognosticators are having a field day in trying to guess the 18 players who will represent the U.S. in Japan this July. Carli still, after all this time, figures she needs to improve. I personally think there’s no way the coach leaves the most dependable player of the modern era home for what will almost assuredly be the last big tournament of her career. She has earned it — but she also knows that’s not how it works. “The biggest lesson you can share is that nobody in this life hands you anything,” said Carli Lloyd. “I’m living proof of that.”