In a frenetic Women’s World Cup final, Carli Lloyd pounced on a loose pass midway inside her own half. The US was 3-0 up inside the opening 15 minutes in its match against Japan, and the game was being played at a frantic pace.
But for Lloyd, surrounded by the chaos around her, it looked like time stood still as she took a touch past an onrushing defender. Then, in a matter of milliseconds, the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) star looked up and launched a half-field shot towards the Japanese goal.
“That’s what happens when you are in that flow state – just being in that moment. A lot of good things happen when you’re in that space.”
As the ball flew toward Japan’s goalkeeper, Ayumi Kaihori, she began to stumble and her flailing hands weren’t enough to prevent Lloyd from completing an incredible 13-minute hat trick.
The US went on to win the final 5-2. Success that was built on years of hard work, as well as a desire to reverse the disappointment of four years prior.
“2011 was a really difficult loss to swallow,” Lloyd explained. The US had fought its way to the 2011 Women’s World Cup final and Japan had stood between the team and glory.
The US had already overcome the formidable Brazil on penalties, as well as beating France in the semifinals, and the team was confident heading into the biggest game of all.
“We felt like the way the World Cup was going, our storyline as a team, hadn’t won a World Cup since 1999, we just really felt like it was our time to win,” said Lloyd of the 2011 final.
Despite this inner feeling of confidence within the squad, the US came up short, falling to a devastating penalty shootout defeat.
Along with Shannon Boxx and Tobin Heath, Lloyd was among the players that had missed during the shootout and this helped provide even more inspiration to the New Jersey native going into the 2015 tournament.
“I just was devastated. I felt really responsible and just really kind of took some of that blame for letting down my teammates and the country,” the two-time Olympic gold medalist said.
Lloyd vividly remembered arriving back in the US after the tournament and being greeted by fans who were full of admiration for the team, even though she felt the team had failed. That acted as another source of inspiration when the chance of redemption would arrive four years down the line.
‘Thinking about winning’
The expectations were high for the US heading into the 2015 Women’s World Cup and with the tournament hosted by neighbors Canada, US fans flocked to see their heroines in action.
As they did four years ago, the US reached the final once more. The side came out of the ‘Group of Death,’ featuring Australia, Sweden and Nigeria, unbeaten before going past Colombia, China and Germany in the knockout stages without conceding a goal.
This imperious form set up a rematch against Japan and a chance to rewrite the wrongs of four years ago.
“I can remember that day vividly. I remember waking up the night before multiple times, finding my brain and my mind thinking about the World Cup final, thinking about winning,” said Lloyd.
Upon waking up, Lloyd thought it would be best to treat the occasion like every other gameday. The forward went for her traditional pre-match morning jog but even this could not take her mind away from the game.
“I can vividly remember just the fans walking around in red, white and blue and wishing me good luck and waving,” Lloyd said of the day of the final. “It was a really, really surreal moment.”
The team made its way to the BC Place stadium in Vancouver and, despite the confidence flowing through the team four years prior, Lloyd said there was a different feeling altogether this time.
“When we got to that match, there was just something different about our team, the way that we were feeling. We were light. We were ready. We were charged up. We were just excited for the moment.”
‘We need more’
“You always want to come out and start fast and furious, and we definitely did that,” Lloyd said, smiling.
In this case, fast and furious would also be an understatement. The US was leading Japan 4-0 after just 16 minutes and Lloyd said that the early goals set the tone for the rest of the encounter.
“We got off to one of the best starts in a tournament that you could ever ask for,” Lloyd said. “It sounds pretty crazy, but scoring the first goal, it was like, ‘okay, I want more, we need more.’ Then you score the second goal and then it’s like, ‘okay, we need to keep pressing on.’”
This desire to constantly be better is one of the many reasons for the US’ success over the years and the team’s ruthlessness was plain to see. Lloyd laughed as she remembered hearing stories of people tuning into the game late and missing the ferocious start.
To complete her historic hattrick, the first in a Women’s World Cup final, Lloyd scored with the strike from over 50 yards out – a goal that players only tend to dream of scoring.
“For whatever reason, in that particular moment, I decided to do something that was just out of this world,” Lloyd said.
“I just couldn’t believe it, honestly, to be able to pull that off in a World Cup final and to be able to complete a hat trick in that fashion – you don’t get many moments like that.”
As unlikely as it may seem, being the star player in a World Cup final has its downsides.
“I missed the majority of the locker room celebrations. I was being ushered all over the place. I remember having to walk to the press conference, doing interviews, doing all sorts of things,” said Lloyd, who was unsurprisingly named the player of the match.
Luckily for Lloyd, she was able to get in one team picture before the squad began to disperse and, besides, she was mainly thinking about getting into bed after a physically and mentally exhausting final.
However, after arriving back in the US having won the Women’s World Cup for a record third time, a far more exciting prospect was waiting the US squad.
Lloyd talked of the team being viewed as “heroes,” welcomed with an incredible ticker-tape parade in New York – the first women’s team to make their way through the ‘Canyon of Heroes’ – as the USWNT solidified its status as one of the nation’s favorite sports team.
“That’s what happens to a country when you have teams that win. They just gravitate and love you, and the support has just been amazing,” said Lloyd.
The World Cup final hat trick has become synonymous with Lloyd’s career – a brilliant player, capable of producing brilliant moments on the biggest stage of all.
“There’s a lot of other moments in there, too. I think that one just kind of blew everything out of the water,” Lloyd said of her star-studded career.
But, like the US’ victory in Canada, the final was just a part of a long journey that got Lloyd to where she is.
“For me it’s the compilation of the journey. Without the journey from start to finish, everything in between doesn’t happen and it’s not as meaningful,” she said.