She’s on the list.
Any future discussions of the greatest sports performances of all-time must include Carli Lloyd.
That Lloyd’s came in a World Cup final, lifting the United States to a 5-2 victory over Japan, ensures its permanence.
A goal off a corner kick, slapped into the goal with the outside of her left foot, ignited the onslaught, a mere three minutes into the contest.
Two minutes later, a Lauren Holiday free kick and a back-heel pass from Julie Johnston placed the ball in front of a charging Lloyd, who managed to steer a shot between the legs of a defender for a 2-0 lead.
The dazed Japanese held on gamely for nine minutes before Holliday herself scored.
That set up Lloyd’s icer. Incredibly, it came from midfield, where Lloyd noticed that the Japanese keeper, Ayumi Kaihori, had wandered away from the goal. Lloyd launched a kick which floated down the field, refusing to succumb to gravitational force. Kaihori retreated, hastened her pace, stumbled and reached futilely into the air as the ball bounced past her gloved hand into the empty goal.
4-0. Sixteen minutes in, the game was over.
“When you’re feeling good, mentally and physically, those plays are just instincts,” Lloyd told Jere Longman of the New York Times. “It just happens.”
No, it doesn’t. It had never happened before, not like that.
In 16 minutes, Lloyd had outscored every team that had ever played in a women’s World Cup final.
And half an hour later, when the US took that 4-0 lead into the locker room, it was the largest halftime lead in World Cup history, for men or women.
Easily forgotten was how offensively challenged this team was during group play. They poured in only four goals in three games.
That prompted Lloyd to call for the team to take more chances. According to Longman, coach Jill Ellis told her, “Don’t stress it. We’re going to find a way to get you going.”
No need to question the veracity of coach Ellis. Lloyd wound up scoring six goals in the four elimination games, earning the Golden Ball as the World Cup’s most outstanding player.
“I’ve dedicated my whole life to this,” Lloyd told Longman.
She got an assist from Ellis, who switched the basic U.S. alignment from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1. This allowed the Americans to initiate their attack farther upfield, freed up the wings to advance along the sidelines, and afforded Lloyd the freedom to play her freestyle game.
Give Ellis credit, too, for having the guts to put Abby Wambach on the bench. Wambach’s the greatest scorer in international soccer history, with 183 goals. But at age 35, she could no longer keep up the pressure with her defense. This contributed to the U.S. having to build attacks too near its own goal.
But Wambach still made her presence felt. She emerged as the team’s leading cheerleader; delivered a rousing halftime speech during the China quarterfinal; and kept other player’s heads in the game. Fayetteville native Kelley O’Hara credited Wambach after she entered the game and scored a late goal against Germany in the semifinal.
Not that it was easy for Wambach sitting on the bench.
“Now I understand what my parents have been going through all these years,” she told Julie Macur of the New York Times. “But I appreciate it. I’m taking it in. I’m not upset. I accept my role.”
And so it was appropriate that when Wambach entered Sunday’s game for the final dozen minutes, Lloyd gave her the captain’s armband.
“I said, ‘No, Carli,’ but she insisted,” Wambach told Macur.
Lloyd had plenty of support, but make no mistake: the torch has been passed. Lloyd coolly converted a penalty kick to beat Colombia in the Round of 16. She leapt over an opponent to head in the goal that beat China. She opened the scoring against Germany with another penalty kick, psyching out the German keeper Nadine Angerer by staring only at the ball before the shot.
And then came Sunday’s hat trick in the final.
It’s what champions do. Lloyd rose to the occasion in the world’s biggest games on the world’s biggest stage.
She’s now on the list for sure.