THE TEENAGE girl's jaw dropped. Literally, figuratively, you name it, the kid, stretching on a mat at a local South Jersey health club, stopped cold when she realized the person next to her had a lot to do with the soccer-oriented shirt she was wearing, or even why she was on the mat stretching in the first place.
"Excuse me, do you mind if we take a selfie?'' the kid asked.
"Sure. No problem,'' said Carli Lloyd, a name that has become synonymous with women's soccer here, and maybe globally too.
Two gold-medal-winning goals in the Olympics can do that. If not, a hat trick against Japan in the 2015 Women's World Cup final, with a big chunk of the nation watching, sealed it. Serena and Venus Williams may still be the most recognized female athletes we have out there, but the Delran, N.J., native is coming fast. And with her third Olympic Games less than three weeks away, that's probably understating it.
This happened a couple of months ago in a place where famous ex-Eagles like Jon Runyan, Seth Joyner and Darwin Walker have exercised undetected, where former Flyer and current assistant Ian Laperriere operates anonymously as well. Just a day before this, former U.S. Olympian Erin Donohue was stretching in the same spot. But Lloyd is probably the most recognizable U.S. soccer player right now, male or female. And, given its spike in popularity among both sexes, and the greater success the U.S. women's team has experienced relative to the men's team, an argument can be made that she is U.S. Soccer's most recognizable player ever.
Here's what is indisputable: She is a rock star for young female athletes, an endorsement machine who has thus far remained squeaky clean. As such, she carries a burden that she seems to be ready for as she is about to turn 34.
As you probably have read, Lloyd was one of five players who filed a wage-discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March, citing what they believe to be an unfair pay scale by U.S. Soccer. It's complicated, and you can read a great summary of it here, but the basis of it is this: Despite creating more revenue than the men since their World Cup victory, the women earn significantly less in bonus money to play under the U.S. crest than the men.
"Simply put, we're sick of being treated like second-class citizens,'' Lloyd said in an essay she wrote for the New York Times in April. "It wears on you after a while. And we are done with it.''
The U.S. women's team is favored to win another gold in Rio. If they do, another victory tour will surely follow — bolstering the coffers of U.S. Soccer and further highlighting this emotionally charged dispute.
And if Lloyd wasn't already a household name, she surely will be by then.