High self-confidence is almost a prerequisite for being a successful professional athlete. The best of the best often have extreme self-confidence bordering on delusion. Carli Lloyd, in particular, is famous for this.
“There’s no denying it. I deserved to be on that field that whole World Cup, but I wasn’t,” Lloyd told ESPN’s Julie Foudy in October. She presented her assertion as fact, when there is plenty of room for “denying it” if you’d like to make that case. Lloyd did not play well in the time between her two Ballon d’Or awards and the World Cup. She never gave former head coach Jill Ellis a good reason to pick her.
And given the USWNT won the World Cup, Ellis probably feels good about her lineup decisions. The player Lloyd ostensibly would have replaced in the lineup, Alex Morgan, finished the tournament with six goals and three assists, including the game-winning goal in the semifinal.
But Lloyd lives in a universe of her own creation.
“I don’t think I will ever be happy with how I was treated between 2016 and 2019,” Lloyd told the LA Times’ Kevin Baxter ahead of the Olympic qualifying tournament. “I was in the best form of my career but was told I would not be a starter no matter how well or how hard I worked at training or how many goals I score.”
Lloyd’s version of events for that time period doesn’t match up with reality. Lloyd was a key player for the USWNT through the 2016 Olympics, but her poor performance against Sweden was a primary factor in the team’s defeat in the Olympic quarterfinal.
Lloyd absolutely was not in the best form of her career in the years leading up to the World Cup, either. She tallied one goal and zero assists for the Houston Dash in 2017. She had four goals and one assist for Sky Blue FC in 2018. Over those two seasons, she converted fewer than eight percent of her shots.
Meanwhile, Morgan, who was criticized for her poor club form over the same period, scored 14 goals with an 18 percent conversion rate. Lloyd scored six goals for the national team in 2017 and 2018, with three of them coming in a hat trick against a badly overmatched Panama. Morgan, who admittedly played more minutes, scored 24 national team goals over the same period.
The good news for Lloyd is Morgan is currently pregnant and out of the USWNT lineup. Morgan plans to return to full training in May, but Vlatko Andonovski doesn’t know whether she’ll be able to reach peak form in time for the games, and it would be silly for him to guess. His plan for the Olympics will include giving Lloyd a fair chance to win the starting striker job, because unlike the previous three years, Lloyd genuinely was in the best form of her life in 2019.
Despite limited opportunities, Lloyd scored 16 goals for the national team last year, with her most impressive performance coming in Andonovski’s first game as coach, a 3-2 win over Sweden. Lloyd also returned to form for Sky Blue, scoring seven goals in 14 starts. There was good reason to deny Lloyd a spot in the USWNT lineup between 2016 and the World Cup. There’s no denying that she has earned her shot now.
Then on Tuesday night against Haiti, Lloyd did nearly everything she could to squander her opportunity.
Lloyd struggled to get involved in the game, turned the ball over repeatedly, and took errant shots. Morgan’s consistent presence between the opposition’s defensive and midfield lines was missing. Whereas Morgan regularly drops deep to link up with her midfielders and hold up the ball, Lloyd seems to have a singular focus on scoring goals. The gap between her and attacking midfielder Rose Lavelle was roughly the size of Lloyd’s ego; it could not be bridged.
As Lloyd grew increasingly frustrated in the second half, her shooting became more wild, and she missed chances she expects to put on target by several yards. During one sequence, she argued with the referee instead of fighting for a loose ball that was close to her. When Megan Rapinoe came off the bench to replace the effective Christen Press instead of Lloyd, fans were unhappy.
Lloyd’s play only deteriorated from there. In a moment that showed off Lloyd’s limitations, she was beaten to a header by Lindsey Horan, who scored. The two players were in the same area and had similar ideas, but Horan was smarter, reacted more quickly, jumped higher and executed perfect technique.
This game tape will not be kind to Lloyd. Her coach will have to give serious thought as to whether she deserves a place in the team. It was one of Lloyd’s weakest performances in a national team shirt, the type of which Morgan — who always makes a positive contribution even when she isn’t coming close to scoring — never turns in.
But Lloyd also did this.
She may not have the best technique, or make the best decisions, or maintain consistently. But more so than anyone else on the national team, Lloyd puts her body on the line to take close-range shots and score, even in stoppage time of a game that has already been won.
Lloyd is, to put it bluntly, consistently full of shit. She talks absolute nonsense. But she’s also the one player in the USWNT pool most likely to score a weird diving chest/shoulder goal in the 94th minute. So, what the hell do you do with her?
I have no idea how I’d manage Lloyd. I didn’t want to be in Ellis’ shoes over the last four years, and I certainly don’t want to be in Andonovski’s now.