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Carli Lloyd reflects on whirlwind 2016, U.S. women's soccer CBA, and what's next

Although Carli Lloyd hasn't played in an official soccer game for three months, she has still been quite busy.

Although Carli Lloyd hasn't played in an official soccer game for three months, she has still been quite busy.

She married longtime boyfriend Brian Hollins, enjoyed the honeymoon that came afterward, then in December traveled to London and Liverpool, where she got to visit the legendary English soccer power she famously roots for.

In between, she released a children's version of her book and fulfilled a number of sponsorship commitments.

Her offseason concluded with a trip to Switzerland for FIFA's annual awards, where she was crowned Women's Player of the Year for the second straight year.

Now she is finally back with the U.S. national team, which is in the midst of its annual January training camp in southern California. It's her first official time with the team since late October, when she scored two goals against Switzerland in a friendly.

The camp comes at an important juncture for the U.S. women's program. With no major tournament on the calendar until 2019, coach Jill Ellis has taken the opportunity to bring in a total of 34 players, including many youth national team products who have never been capped by the senior team before.

"Jill is doing a tremendous job with bringing in younger talent and keeping a mix of veteran players as well," Lloyd told me. "It's great to see, because she's rewarding players who are doing well in the league, she's rewarding some of the under-23s that have come in, and she's really getting to take her time and put together a great pool... There's obviously a lot of time from now until 2019, and now's the time to get some of these players in, get their feet wet and see what they can do."

Ellis has been criticized at times during her tenure for not calling in a broad enough swath of players, especially those who've done well in the National Women's Soccer League but haven't been widely recognized for it. Some critics pointed to the national team's central contract system, which guarantees annual salaries to a core of 24 national team players, as a potential reason for limiting the squad.

Yet since the retirements of veteran stars like Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone, Ellis has dramatically widened the national team talent pool. So perhaps the contract system wasn't the problem.

And by the way, the controversial memorandum of understanding that extended the last official collective bargaining agreement through the end of 2016 includes language that seems to allow for more than 24 core players - though the group can only expand for players at the bottom end of the talent scale.

"It's kind of confusing," Lloyd admitted when I asked her how she'd explain the system to fans. "Players who are in for a certain amount of days are then put on a floater salary, with a certain amount of days until they are put on contracts."

Players then move through a series of salary tiers that are based on a range of factors including appearances at major tournaments.

"But that may all change with the [new] CBA," Lloyd said.

Ah, yes. About that.

The current national team camp is happening without a new collective bargaining agreement between the U.S. Soccer Federation and the players. Both sides agreed to continue operating under the terms of the previous CBA, which expired at the end of 2016, for the time being.

This does not mean the players care any less about the cause of equal pay. It does, however, signal a change in public tone. There isn't as much fiery rhetoric now; instead, the focus is on working behind the scenes.

"We just want a fair deal," Lloyd said. "There's things the men have such as bonuses and other things that we think should be the same. There's other things that we think should be different. There's other things that you really can't compare, because this is our primary source of income, and for the men, it's sort of an added bonus for them. The clubs are their main source of income."

What are those "other things"? Lloyd specifically mentioned "equal playing surfaces - if the men are not playing on turf, we don't want to play on turf - per diems, bonuses, that type of stuff."

Another subject that has long been on the list is travel accommodations, specifically when it comes to air travel between games. The players have asked for fewer flights in coach class, and more in business class or by charter.

"I think the whole 'equal pay' thing kind of got a little misinterpreted," Lloyd said.

That quote might raise the ire of fans who'd claim they didn't misinterpret anything. After all, much of the saga last year played out in public, from social media to national TV shows and major newspaper front pages.

But in the last few weeks, there has been a definite change in tone. It's likely no coincidence that happened after the players union got rid of lawyer Rich Nichols, who took some hardline stances against U.S. Soccer in public and in court. His rhetoric brought a lot of big headlines, but that didn't help get a deal done.

That point was hammered home when Nichols and the players lost a high-stakes court case about whether the memorandum allowed the players to strike before the Olympics.

The status of the players' wage discrimination complaint to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission is not known, because those proceedings are kept out of public view.

What is clear, Lloyd said, is that "no one ever wanted to strike. We all want to play."

This is not to say a strike is off the table, as Alex Morgan made clear in an interview with the Guardian published Monday morning. It's simply not the preferred course of action. Which makes sense.

(For the record, Morgan also said the players want to keep the central contract system in place.)

Though there hasn't been a work stoppage, there has been a small amount of collateral damage. Lloyd and other sources told me that because of the uncertain labor landscape at the end of 2016, no games were scheduled to culminate the January camp.

That means the U.S. won't have played a game between November 13 and March 1, when they face Germany at Talen Energy Stadium on the opening night of the SheBelieves Cup.

It's not much of a thing, but given the history of games at this time of year, it's notable.

"We're just going to have to be prepared and ready to go against Germany," Lloyd said. "You can't expect everything to gel and be perfect when you haven't played a game together in three months. Hopefully, as the tournament gets going, we'll start to gel and be good to go. But it's definitely not ideal."

There's plenty of solace, though, in knowing that the SheBelieves Cup will be close to home. It will start in Chester with that showdown against the reigning Olympic champions. Then it's up to Red Bull Arena to play England, followed by a finale against France in D.C.

All are big games in big cities, and hopefully with big crowds.

(Though with a big "if" in the form of Mother Nature. Hopefully the weather cooperates.)

"This is what it's all about, playing against the best teams in the world," Lloyd said. "That's when you're really tested. I think it gives some of these younger players who maybe haven't played in a a major tournament before, the feel of that... I know if we continue to do what we're doing and keep working hard, we'll be good to go."

Lloyd has been one of the most prominent voices in the players' public push for a better CBA. But with so much on her plate lately, she has stepped back from an official role at the bargaining table.

This is not an unusual move for a labor union. Lead representatives come and go on a regular basis. (Disclaimer: I'm on the executive board of The Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, which represents unionized newsroom employees of the Inquirer, Daily News and So I've had some personal experience with this.)

Of course, not every union has members as famous as the U.S. women's national team players are. So it's news when one of them makes a decision like this, whether or not it should be.

Lloyd told me that the players have been rebuilding a formal players' association. Such an entity has existed at times, but has been off the radar at others. There hasn't been confirmation yet of a new lawyer for the group.

As the new association came together, players were asked if they wanted to be official representatives. Becky Sauerbrunn, Christen Press and Meghan Klingenberg said yes, and the team voted to approve their positions.

Lloyd politely said no, since some of this work happened at the time of her wedding. As she put it, she "shut off the world" during that stretch.

"I was completely off the grid," she said. "During this time there were a lot of calls and everything that I missed out on."

Now that she's back in the loop, Lloyd said she "can still have a voice while not jumping on every single phone call."

Then came an emphatic conclusion to the point.

"The players we have in place will get us a fair deal, and I'm just kind of focusing on just playing soccer at the moment," she said. "They are doing diligent work on everything and enjoying it. And by my not being on the committee, [fans] shouldn't question my commitment or dedication."

From there, we moved on to other subjects.

First up was her trip to Liverpool. It was a personal occasion for sure, but I couldn't help asking if she was interested in doing some business over there too. Specifically, might she be interested in playing in Europe some day? Perhaps in that famous red shirt?

The idea of Lloyd moving abroad would have been hard to imagine for much of her career, given her deep ties to New Jersey. But the dynamics have changed a bit recently, thanks to Crystal Dunn's move to Chelsea and Morgan's loan deal at Lyon.

"I have gotten offers from overseas clubs," Lloyd said. "I think anything is possible from now until I retire. I would go somewhere if it was the right city, and the quality of soccer was there. It would have to be the absolute right fit - I'd be leaving my great training environment with James [Galanis], I'd be leaving my husband. So it would have to be the perfect fit for me. I don't want to just go somewhere where the soccer is not great. So, yeah, it's a possibility."

For now, Lloyd is happy to stay where she is, playing for the National Women's Soccer League's Houston Dash. Although her relationship with Dash coach Randy Waldrum was strained a bit at times last year, she told me that any rifts have been patched up.

"Of course - things got really blown out of proportion," she said. "I'm just looking ahead now to next season, and moving on from there."

She will arrive in Houston with another FIFA trophy to put on her mantle. There was no hat trick in a major tournament final in 2016, just a series of solid performances. Her 17 goals, 11 assists and marquee global profile added up to a second consecutive Women's World Player of the Year award.

Lloyd admitted that when her name was announced at the ceremony in Zurich, she "wasn't sure what to think at that moment." And while she admitted on stage at the event that she wasn't expecting to win, she certainly wasn't complaining.

"I wasn't surprised I won, but I assumed the Olympics loss would have worked against me," she told me. "I know over the course of the year I have been consistent, and 2016 was my best year in terms of solid performances, so it was awesome to win... I was happy that people voted based off the whole year."

The prize was the capstone to a jam-packed 12 months. There was also just enough time at the end to get some breathing room, both at home and in England. Even the world's top athletes need that every once in a while. And it's hard to begrudge her and Hollins some time to themselves, given how long they waited to officially tie the knot.

Now, though, it's time to get back to work. Lloyd is clearly ready to go.

The Twitter handle above is for my general news reporting. My soccer handle is @thegoalkeeper. Contact me there for any questions about this post.