Carli Lloyd learned something from scoring dramatic goals in the world’s biggest tournament finals.
Take a souvenir when it’s all over.
“You know, I was late to the boat on that one,” she said recently. “In 2015 World Cup, I grabbed the ball. Well, I did get a ball from 2008 and 2012 [Olympics], as well, but it wasn’t like the game ball. But from now on, if I score in the final, I’m stealing the ball.”
Lloyd hopes her next try at thievery will come at the Rio 2016 Olympics, where the U.S. women could go for a fourth straight gold medal. They’re favored to qualify for the Games at a CONCACAF tournament in February in Texas, where the two finalists earn Olympic spots.
Lloyd, one of three finalists for the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award to be presented Jan. 11, is best known for scoring three goals in the first 16 minutes of the World Cup final July 5, a 5-2 win over Japan in a rematch of the 2011 final won by the Japanese.
Before that, Lloyd also netted all of the U.S. goals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold-medal games, the former against Brazil in extra time.
How does she rank those three feats?
“Obviously the 2015 No. 1, 2012 No. 2 and 2008 three,” Lloyd said. “They’ve all been stepping stones to get me to the 2015. It’s hard to kind of put in order because it’s like this evolution of continuing to improve. 2008, I was very inexperienced. 2012, I was more experienced, I was way more fit, but I was benched before [those Olympics]. So that posed a different challenge. … It’s almost like, after I finish each event, it’s like that was better than last year. That’s kind of the evolution of my career.”
Lloyd and the U.S. program will count on that progress in 2016.
She’s started 23 of the 24 total U.S. matches at the last two Olympics and two World Cups (coming off the bench in the 17th minute of the 2012 Olympic opener, scoring the game winner in a U.S. comeback and playing every minute the rest of the tournament).
No other American field player has started even one match at all four of those tournaments.
Olympic and World Cup teammates Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Lori Chalupny and Lauren Holiday have retired. One of Lloyd’s midfield partners, Megan Rapinoe, tore an ACL last week, eight months before the Rio Games.
“I’m now emerging as a leader on the team, someone who needs to take some of the younger players under their wing, has to command the offense, just really lead by example on and off the field and be someone who’s encouraging,” said Lloyd, who is 33 and two years older than any other regular U.S. starter in the field.
An August trip to Rio would not be her first Brazil visit. She scored five goals, including a hat trick, at the December 2014 Tournament of Brasilia, losing to Brazil in the final.
“It was awful,” she said. “We were in Brasilia. There was absolutely nothing there. … I’m looking forward to being in some other cities.”
Lloyd mapped out the rest of her career. Ideally, Olympic gold in Rio, another World Cup title in 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Games as her finale.
She described the Olympics and the World Cup as “completely the same.”
“I don’t want to say it’s not as hard to win an Olympics, but there’s less teams [12 versus 24 at the World Cup],” Lloyd said. “It’s not like the end-all, be-all for a soccer player. The World Cup is like the World Cup. And there’s a lot of teams, and it’s really hard to win it.”
One of her dream moments in the five months since the World Cup was speaking with Lionel Messi through a translator in Houston on Aug. 31.
See you in January, Messi told her, referencing the FIFA awards. Messi is one of three finalists for the men’s Player of the Year.
“It took scoring three goals in a World Cup final for people to actually see what I’ve been doing all these years,” Lloyd said. “I didn’t just emerge this World Cup. I’ve done things over the past, and for whatever reasons it’s just been flying under the radar.”
MORE SOCCER: U.S. women’s star tears ACL eight months before Rio