An unforgettable night for the kids Carli Lloyd inspires in her hometown
Carli Lloyd's book signing in Cherry Hill on Thursday brought back a memory of a moment last year that occurred just before the Delran native jumped from national team stardom to global superstardom.
"Are you Carli Lloyd's family?" two young girls asked as they timidly approached a group of people clad in the Delran native's jersey.
Faces painted, sign in hand, the girls represented a large portion of the 51,000-plus gathered at Olympic Stadium in Montreal to see the U.S. National Team take on Germany in the semifinals of the Women's World Cup in June of 2015.
The fans knew they had just witnessed something special and they wanted to be a part of it.
There some of those same loved ones stood Thursday night, in the middle of a chaotic scene at the Barnes and Noble store in Cherry Hill for the soccer star's book signing, watching again. Being a part of something special again.
This time they weren't wearing their usual Lloyd paraphernalia, and they didn't line up spelling L-L-O-Y-D in big cut-out letters like they do at games.
They didn't have to, because almost everyone else in the room was.
"You know her," the two girls giddily exclaimed before asking to take a picture with Lloyd's friends back in the summer of 2015.
Her friends obliged and posed, still giddy themselves after watching Lloyd's star-making turn. Little did they know that the person they used to make fun of for her chapstick was still saving her greatest moment for the grandest stage.
The greatest moment, of course, came in the final against Japan where the Rutgers graduate scored three goals in 16-minutes.
After that, and the accolades that followed - including being named FIFA World Player of the Year - it would become harder to spot the Lloyd contingent.
More difficult because her No. 10 jersey started to become ubiquitous, it wasn't just for her friends and family anymore.
"It used to be you would only see one Lloyd in the whole stadium," Kathy Sweet, who first met Lloyd in middle school, said. "She's worked so hard for this. It is so satisfying and so exciting to see little girls like my nieces wearing number 10. It's just been a long time coming."
Little girls like Dylan, Sydney, Taylor and Ella - all from Glen Mills, Pa. - ranging in ages from 7 to 9, who started lining up at 4:30 and even an hour later weren't sure what they were going to say once they got to the table to meet Lloyd.
Samantha Pappas, 10, was there in her blue jersey too. She hails from the same hometown as the soccer star, and waited with Gia Chierici, Logan Myers, Samantha Azores and Olivia Stavely at the end of an aisle to catch a glimpse as the event was getting started.
"Carli! Carli! Carli!" the crowd chanted.
When she emerged from the back room at the bookstore, Pappas, Chierici, Myers, Azores and Stavely got to give her a high five.
The general consensus was elation.
"I'm never washing my hand," the Delran Intermediate School students insisted.
That feeling - the euphoria - the buzz that filled the jam-packed room was everywhere you looked. It was inescapable.
Unavoidable, just like jerseys with the hometown hero's name and number on the back.
"Before no one could even find a No. 10 jersey and if they did it was one they made from scratch or something," Lloyd said. "Now, I go to games and I look around the stadium and I try to sign every No. 10 jersey I see because I'm thankful they are repping my jersey."
All night - and for parts of the afternoon - the room was packed with fans, both young and old, but also friendly faces.
Faces like Jaime Bula, Lloyd's cousin who is prominently featured in the book. Members of Lloyd's old Medford Strikers club team posed for pictures with the midfielder. Longtime friends, the wife and kids of longtime trainer James Galanis, as well as the family of Lloyd's fiancé, Brian Hollins, whom she has dated since 2000.
"It's cool," Lloyd said. "Everyone has seen the journey - the ups and downs - where I started out, where I am now and that's why all of these people are near and dear to me, because they've been there since the beginning. They believed in me, supported me."
One of those people is Karen Sweet, who followed Lloyd and Bula in her car on the way to Cherry Hill from Mount Laurel. She couldn't believe when she drove by and saw the amassed crowds.
"It is kind of surreal to see your best friend have a book come out," she said. "It's just an unreal thing to witness and now everyone gets to read the journey that I've been able to see behind the scenes all these years."
At 8:30 p.m. - two and a half hours since Lloyd first started signing copies of When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World - Brooke Sztenderowicz stood towards the end of the line. The 11-year old from Cinnaminson had only found out at 7 p.m. that she was going to the event after getting out of the shower.
"Get dressed - you are going to meet Carli Lloyd," her mom, Jackie, said.
Only one item of clothing seemed appropriate for the occasion: a Lloyd jersey, the one her parents bought her last Christmas. The item that was at the top of her list.
From the looks of things, Thursday, Sztenderowicz wasn't the only one who got what she wanted for the holidays.
The No. 10's were all around.