If you were driving on Route 70 on your way into work Wednesday morning, you wouldn't have known that Carli Lloyd was working out just down the road.
While South Jersey's highways were a cacophony of noise, the Marlton Memorial Park was quiet and still. You might not even have known that Lloyd was on the property if you were walking your dog on the sun-splashed playground nearby.
But if you happened to be near the indoor recreation center when the side door opened, you would have heard the rhythmic thumping of a soccer ball repeatedly hitting a foot, then a hard floor, then a foot again, then the floor again...
And if you took a moment to look at the roof of the building, and the doors, and the color of the paint on the inside walls, you'd have no doubt about where you were.
Lots of people in South Jersey know about the famed "Blue Barn," of course especially within the local soccer community. There's a banner above one of the three basketball courts under the giant vaulted roof that reads: "Carli Lloyd Court / 2015 World Champion."
But if you're an outsider, you might be surprised at just how simple the building is that Lloyd so often credits as the place where it all started.
(And if you, like me, spend most of your life on the other side of the Delaware River, you're an outsider. My colleague Kate Harman could probably drive to the place off muscle memory; I almost missed a few turns after crossing the Ben Franklin Bridge, even though my phone gave me step-by-step instructions.)
I got there just after 8 a.m., and was one of five people in the building. Lloyd and Galanis were joined by Wayne Coffey, a former New York Daily News sportswriter who's ghostwriting Lloyd's forthcoming autobiography; and his daughter Samantha.
That was the entire crowd for most of the morning, until a janitor showed up to clean the other courts that weren't in use. I wouldn't have seen him had if not for his bright yellow vest. Otherwise, the place was vacant.
Samantha's presence wasn't just a matter of personal courtesy. She's a serious soccer prospect in her own right, and was just invited to join the U.S. under-18 girls' national team at an upcoming training camp in southern California.
The drills were low-key, and understandably so. Lloyd was fresh off playing two games for the U.S. women's national team, and was soon to leave for Houston to begin the National Women's Soccer League Season with the Dash.
So there was some dribbling, some shooting, some practicing of first-touch passes and harder hits at targets. Everything that Lloyd did, Coffey did too. Not always as precisely, but Galanis' point was clear: the fine-tuning you need to do in order to become an elite soccer player is mental as much as it is physical.
And even though none of the drills was out of the ordinary, you could tell when the person performing them was the reigning FIFA Women's Player of the Year.
You may have heard that Lloyd's autobiography will be called "When Nobody Is Watching." That title wasn't chosen only because it sounds catchy.
At one point, Lloyd embarked on a drill of dribbling the ball up and down the court in a zig-zag form. Her eyes were constantly focused on the ball. Something in that look caused my mind to flash back to that epic night in Montréal last summer when Lloyd stared at the Olympic Stadium penalty spot for almost a full minute before scoring the goal that put the U.S. ahead of Germany.
Later, Galanis ran a routine where he played low, rolling passes for Lloyd and Coffey to hit first time into a retractable curtain that separated this court from the next one over.
When Galanis started to deliver the ball, Lloyd crouched slightly in anticipation. I watched her laser-focused eyes again. It was as if she was trying to use the Force to compel the ball to move according to her will.
As far as I know, Lloyd isn't related to Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill or Sir Alec Guinness. But I've seen Lloyd (and some of her teammates) do things on soccer fields that resemble Jedi mind tricks. So I'm not ruling anything out.
The training session wrapped up after about two hours of work. Lloyd and Galanis had a short conversation at mid-court, then Galanis pulled Coffey aside to offer a few points of advice.
Once everyone had cooled down and all the equipment was packed up, I got to chat with Lloyd for a while.
For once, there were no minders, agents, PR flacks or other people around to hang over anyone's shoulders. Getting that kind of access to U.S. women's national team stars is increasingly harder to do - and for good reason, because they've become just as high-profile as professional athletes in other sports.
(Though not as well-paid for their labor, and we'll get to that in a minute.)
But so many players on the national team, even its biggest names, remain the same down-to-earth people they were before they became famous. That includes Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and so many others.
You could have come to the rec center just like anyone else on Wednesday, because it's a publicly-owned facility. Of course, Lloyd and Galanis knew that 8 a.m. was the only time they could get the place to themselves, but there weren't any gates or security guards keeping people out.
And if you were outside the Blue Barn just after 10 a.m., you'd have seen Lloyd carry the bag of practice balls out to the adjacent parking lot herself.
When she came back inside, she was ready to talk for a while. Our conversation covered a wide range of subjects on and off the field. Here's a transcript, lightly edited for clarity.
So the reigning FIFA Women's Player of the Year carries the bag of balls to her own car at the end of a practice session?
Ha. I shag balls, I carry the balls, I do it all. Yeah. It's part of the job, part of the responsibility. Nobody is going to come here and do it. We arrive here on the side of the Barn and walk to the front, open the door, and then open the side door. That's just really what it's about.
What does it mean to you to be able to come back here still, and be able to train in some amount of anonymity?
It's honestly priceless to be home. People may not realize and really grasp the full effect of why I need to be home, but when I'm home, James makes adjustments. If I'm not shooting properly, he makes one minor adjustment in training and then it's fixed.
It's where I get my reps, it's where I get my touches, where I get my confidence. It's really everything. It's a huge part of my game. When I'm here training on a daily basis - then I go away, I'm sharp, fit, and I'm ready to go. But it's just so important to put in the work behind the scenes.
When you look up on the wall in here and there's that banner with your name on it, what's that like for you?
This Barn has been really special to me. This journey that James and I have been a part of. It's been a livesaver here, with the surface, getting the right touches, using the walls. James is able to design so many different things that we can use, whether it's knocking the ball off the wall and practicing side volleys, shooting, we just basically do it all in here. It's really helped my touch and my game so much.
You're heading down to Houston on Thursday to get the NWSL season started with the Dash. What are your expectations for the league as it begins its historic fourth year?
I think it's going to be good. The league is definitely growing. With the national team and the whole equal pay [discussion], everything is really at the forefront right now. I'm curious to see how ticket sales are going to be this year. I'm wondering if they're going to be any better. Hopefully they are.
But overall, I'm looking forward to the season kicking off. I know we'll probably be around for nine or 10 game [before the Olympics], and we'll have four more games with the national team. That's 14 games before Rio, and every game is very important.
After the Olympics end, people are going to start looking at the league to see which other players could be worthy of national team consideration for the 2019 World Cup.
The Dash have a few players who could make that leap: Kealia Ohai, a 24-year-old forward who was a star on the U.S. under-20 team that won the 2012 World U-20 World Cup; and Amber Brooks, a 25-year-old midfielder whose lone career cap to date came in 2013. What do you think of them as prospects?
Kealia is the type of player who is raw. You don't know what she's going to do. She's got really great pace up top. She's done well, and I think the more that she can focus and keep on doing what she needs to do, the more goals she's going to score. I know that's her goal this year. She's definitely a threat up there. We have a good front six going on right now. We've got Amber Brooks coming in, Morgan Brian is there, myself, [Brazilian midfielder] Andressa...
With Amber, we'll see how it goes. The tricky thing is, can these players do it consistently? That's the biggest thing, I think, when you get in the national team. And I think that's the biggest thing that people don't realize. They see some of these players in the league doing well. Maybe they come in for a national team camp or two, do well, but the overall consistency of being able to grind it out, day in and day out, that's where people don't quite understand that's what it takes.
Even now, it seems that Jill Ellis has worked to expand the senior women's national team player pool. And I say that knowing there are collective bargaining ramifications to the ways in which players get called in to the national team, because of the salaries and benefits that the U.S. Soccer Federation pays, and that can restrict the size of the pool. Maybe that changes in the new CBA. But for the moment, as I said, it does seem that Ellis has become more flexible with who she calls in.
Yeah. I think it's great. When Jill took over after Tom [Sermanni], she had a short window to get everybody ready [for the 2015 World Cup]. We hadn't won a World Cup in 16 years. It would have been very tough for her to just start all of a sudden ripping the team to shreds and experimenting. It would have been really tough.
I give her a lot of credit, because she knew what this team was about for so many years, and she made do with what she had. And we won, and we did well. With players retiring, now there's a new influx and wave of players, and that's the most important thing: preparing for 2019.
You brought up the equal pay thing before I could. Let's get into that. Obviously, the public relations aspect of the campaign has been a huge boost to you and your fellow players, starting with the big announcement on the Today Show when the Equal Opportunity Commission complaint was filed. But did you think it would catch fire to as much of a degree as it has?
It was a pretty historic moment. It all kind of happened very quickly. We were in Orlando, and we had a few discussions with our attorney, Rich Nichols. Getting up really early for the Today Show - what was it going to be like? And it just was absolutely huge. With Equal Pay Day being [Tuesday], and everything.
The amount of support that we have received has been just unbelievable. That's why, in my New York Times essay as well, there were some things that needed to be clarified. Because this isn't a lawsuit, this is a complaint, and this isn't beef with the men's national team - we respect them. And I think people need to understand that yes, we did do our CBA -
A long time ago, though.
Yes. But I even felt back then that it wasn't good enough. It's hard to kind of change things when your whole team is not united, and this was the right timing for everything. So it was good.
Did Jeffrey Kessler, the high-powered sports attorney who's now part of your campaign, come to you? Or did you go to him?
When Rich Nicholls came on board, he sought out a team. He's good friends with Jeff, and we've got a bunch of great attorneys on our side working for us.
I don't want to make you betray too many private conversations, but it seemed from afar that you all felt like it was time to take things from a different direction than the one that your previous union attorney - Philadelphia-based John Langel of Ballard Spahr - had gone in.
Absolutely. I think Rich isn't here to be buddy-buddy with Sunil [Gulati, U.S. Soccer's president] or Dan [Flynn, U.S. Soccer's CEO], or anybody at U.S. Soccer. He's here to do a job, and that's to get the best CBA that we can for us players. He's working for us very diligently. He's very smart, concise with what we deserve to get.
That's what it's really all about. I think our team has finally realized the disparity between the men's and the women's contracts, and it's gut-wrenching to see that. We didn't get a hold of their contract and the figures five or six years ago. We had no idea. So when you have nothing to compare it to, and you don't know, I think it really opened up a lot of people's eyes - especially on our team. And I think our team finally realizes that we can fight for a lot more.
There have been some notable incidents in the last few weeks of men's and women's national team players getting into public disagreements with each other. Do you think the men's player's union is on your side in your quest for better pay?
I think the overall support is great. We respect the men's team, I respect the men's team and what they're doing. They've been bringing in revenue. They've been really helping us as well. I think it's a "One nation, one team" kind of a thing, and I think we've proven our worth over the years. We've won championships, multiple championships. It's just only fitting to keep fighting for the next step.
This question stems, admittedly, from my own perspective having covered the various people involved in the wage dispute for a while. I find it a bit hard to believe that anyone at U.S. Soccer sat there and said that the federation would intentionally pay the women less because they are women.
Instead, there's a kind of unintentional sexism that leads to what we see in other industries where men are more likely to consider men for higher salaries, bonuses, promotions and so forth - and they just don't see the ramifications of the bigger picture until someone calls them out on it. Is that fair to say in this case, or do you see things differently?
Hmm. Well, it's tricky. Where we started [compared to the men's national team] is totally different. In 2005, when I first came on to the team, there were no health benefits, which are provided by the U.S. Olympic Committee. There were no salaries. [Players] were basically getting paid per-game.
The women then fought to have guaranteed salaries, so they could not have to rely on anything else [for income], because some years there weren't many games being played by the national team. I thought that was a great step. Each CBA, we just increased it a little bit more.
But there's no marketing deal. The CBA has never been signed by a [player] representative. There are so many missing parts to this contract.
So you're saying that John Langel signed that 2005 through 2012 CBA on the players' behalf, but no players put their signatures on it? Or do you mean the memorandum of understanding that was meant to cover 2013 through 2016?
The CBA has not been signed by any representative on our team... I believe you need a representative from the team as well.
[At the time of the posting of this story, I was not able to independently verify either Lloyd's claim about a lack of player signatures, nor whether such signatures are required. A copy of the 2005-12 CBA was included in documents filed in the lawsuit over whether that CBA is still valid. Some pages contained the signatures of Langel and Flynn; others contained no signatures, which traditionally means they are not scanned copies of the original documents. Lloyd may be right, but I feel a need to put this disclaimer out there,]
They've said that the MOU - that's when Langel went and said in his deposition that the MOU is valid. But as far as the CBA goes, it's really not a CBA. It's really not signed. There's no marketing deal. There's so many things that are just left out on the table. I don't know if they purposely did it, but I just think that we didn't have somebody like Rich who was going for the throat.
Let's get back to on-field matters. Do you think Megan Rapinoe will be back on the field in time for the Olympics?
I've talked to her. She said she's doing well. She's running. It's a tough one. You just don't know. I really am a big believer that injuries take a year for you to be fully, fully back from. With an 18-player roster, it's a tough call. I'm not sure.
What has it been like integrating Lindsey Horan into the midfield triangle alongside yourself and Morgan Brian, who you know so well from playing together both for the national team and the Dash?
Lindsey has done well. I really enjoy playing with three in the midfield. I thought it was effective. I felt like I was involved, on the ball. I think the next step, though, is being able to split passes, being able to not always play the ball backwards, get somewhere with a purpose. If we can split lines and move the ball, I think that's where we're going to be effective. Lindsey has come on, she's done well.
Allie Long showed well. I enjoy playing with her. I think Sam Mewis has been doing well too. So it's going to be an interesting battle. Obviously, not all of us can be part of the Olympics. Jill's going to have to make some decisions. I like what I see with Lindsey, I've enjoyed playing with her, and I think that she can continue to get better.
It sounded from Jill Ellis' various remarks this past weekend that when the national team gathers for the two June friendlies against Japan, she'll start turning the focus towards honing the lineup for the Olympics instead of trying the new things. Do you also get that impression?
Yeah. I think that Jill has done a great job of managing everybody so far. She has tried to give equal playing time - I've come off, Becky [Sauerbrunn] has come off, Hope [Solo] hasn't played in a game [specifically, this past Sunday against Colombia in Chester]. So I think she's doing a really good job of managing everybody, and putting players in positions where it's time for them to shine, time for them to show what they can bring.
But I would agree, as we get closer and closer to those two Japan games, and then we've got two more. So there's really not a whole lot of time to prepare for the Olympics. Those games would be a perfect point to start focusing on that.