Carli Lloyd's life over the last seven months reads as much like a travel novel as it does a news story from the sports section. Since she got married last November, soccer has taken her to six countries, plus a full complement of American cities, with her club team and the U.S. national team.
Only rarely has she been able to settle down in one place. There were a few weeks while playing in Manchester City, and the month or so that has passed since she returned to the National Women's Soccer League's Houston Dash.
Now the Delran native is about to hit the road again, as the national team prepares for a round-robin tournament with Australia, Brazil, and Japan on the West Coast later this month.
Has it been the busiest stretch of her career? Not quite, she said in a recent interview, but it's pretty close.
"I'd probably have to say post-World Cup [in 2015] was pretty crazy, but that was off-the-field crazy, with loads of appearances and all sorts of stuff," she said. "But I'd have to say since then, life has changed for the good, and I've been very busy, which is awesome."
The highlight of all the highlights was Lloyd's time in Manchester. It gave her a great taste of European life on and off the field.
"From a personal standpoint, it was just a great cultural experience — something that money can't buy, school can't buy," she said. "Living abroad, living in a different country, living in a different city, it's just something that I can look back upon and say, 'You know what, that was awesome, that I got to live in a different country and play for a different team, and take in a different culture.' I'm thrilled that I was able to be a part of it, and it has definitely opened up doors."
While in Manchester, Lloyd helped Man City win the FA Cup, finish second in the Super League, and reach the UEFA Champions League semifinals.
Going back to Houston has been an adjustment. Not only has she had to transition from rainy English springs to brutally hot Texas summers, but the Dash fired longtime coach Randy Waldrum just before Lloyd's return. At the time, the team was languishing near the bottom of the standings, and she could only watch from afar.
"It just didn't sound like a very good environment — I wasn't sure what was going to happen," Lloyd said. "Obviously, we live in a world where results matter. … I guess his luck had kind of worn out. I sent Randy a text and wished him well, and thanked him, but it's one of those things where you just kind of have to carry on. We were in the middle of the season, and just had to get right back to it."
The Dash have gotten better since Waldrum's departure and Lloyd's return. The campaign doesn't end until late September, so there's still time to move up the standings.
"Honestly, I don't even ever look at the standings," Lloyd said. "It's just all about focusing on one game at a time. And we know, because we've been there before, that it's going to go down to the wire and it's going to be a very close race."
In the short term, there are those upcoming games with the U.S. national team, officially called the Tournament of Nations. Like the spring's SheBelieves Cup, it's designed to test the Americans against some of the world's best teams in a short stretch of time. Japan is ranked No. 6, Australia No. 7, and Brazil No. 8 in FIFA's global standings.
It's a needed exercise, with no major tournament on the calendar until the 2019 World Cup in France. It will also be a major test for Lloyd as her role with the national team evolves.
She hasn't played all 90 minutes of a contest since the Americans beat Germany in Chester in March. In two of the six games since, she was substituted out at halftime; in a third, she departed soon afterward.
At the same time, the national team has welcomed 22-year-old Rose Lavelle, a playmaking midfielder with exceptional touch and vision. Her best place on the field seems to be the same central attacking role in which Lloyd has long thrived.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis has tried to fit Lloyd and Lavelle on the field at the same time. It hasn't always worked. And in the most recent game, a 1-0 win at Norway in mid-June, Lloyd didn't play at all until replacing Lavelle after 86 minutes.
Lloyd is well aware that the national team's rabid fans are never shy to jump to conclusions, no matter how much or how little evidence they have. They've been doing it about her a fair amount recently.
The reality, though, may be different. Lloyd has talked plenty with Ellis, and is comfortable with Ellis' desire to test Lavelle and other new players.
"It has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that now is the time to transition some of these players into finding a way to get it done," she said. "Jill knows what I can do. She knows that I work my butt off; she knows that this is a process, it's a journey; and she knows that she's got to get some players ready, and now is the time to do that. We've had loads of conversations, all good. I totally support everything she's doing. It's more needing to get an idea out of others so that she can continue to help them along."
Ellis has deployed Lloyd in a few roles this year, ranging from midfield to the forward line. At the club level, both in Manchester in Houston, Lloyd has spent quite a bit of time this year high up in the attack.
It may seem odd for a player of Lloyd's stature to get moved around that much, but she doesn't mind. After all, versatility on the field has been a defining trait of her career.
"I've played holding midfielder, I've played center-mid, I've played outside, I've played as the No. 10, I've played as a striker," she said. "I think it's just going to be kind of a game-by-game basis, and will just be kind of one of those things where Jill has to figure it out. … It's all different, but whatever is asked of me, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability."
Former national team midfielder Aly Wagner, once a fine playmaker in her own right, is among the many outside observers who are watching Lloyd's evolution closely.
Wagner wouldn't be surprised if Lloyd isn't a starter in 2019, but she also knows better than to bet against Lloyd's drive and determination.
"I really believe that is a page in the book that will be written as we get to the eve of the tournament," said Wagner, now a TV analyst for national team games on Fox and NWSL games on Lifetime. "She is capable, like Abby Wambach, of maybe not contributing for 89 minutes and then scoring that wonder goal in the last minute. She's always that X-factor you want on your team."
Wagner is fine with Ellis' taking the time now to experiment, even if it means losing some games along the way.
"There has to be a leeway to allow coaches to find their best 15 or so [players]," Wagner said. "They should just close their ears to everyone judging them, because it does not matter. If they win the World Cup in 2019, no one is going to look back and say, 'Yeah, but do you remember that SheBelieves Cup?' "
In the end, everyone knows it's a good thing for the national team to have an infusion of great young talent. Lloyd is happy to help show those players the ropes, and pass on the high standards that have long defined the U.S. program.
"It's all about just getting them to believe in themselves, and having the confidence to do things," Lloyd said. "I think we all lead in different ways, and I still continue to pride myself on leading by example on and off the pitch. … Also, being there for those players who need that extra shoulder to lean on if they're going through something. It's going to be important to rally around all of these younger players and get them going, but also give them the confidence to express themselves out on the pitch."
Thursday, July 27: Brazil vs. Japan (7:15 p.m., WatchESPN.com) and United States vs. Australia (10 p.m., ESPN) at CenturyLink Field, Seattle
Sunday, July 30: Japan vs. Australia (5:15 p.m., WatchESPN.com) and United States vs. Brazil (8 p.m., ESPN2) at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Thursday, August 3: Australia vs. Brazil (7:15 p.m., WatchESPN.com) and United States vs. Japan (10 p.m., ESPN2) at StubHub Center, Carson, Calif.