There were, without question, more important matters on everyone’s mind as the players took the field and the fans came through the gates at Subaru Park on Wednesday night.
But the fact that they were at Subaru Park at all was a reminder that Gotham FC’s move of its game against the Washington Spirit to the Union’s home was planned to be a celebration of Carli Lloyd, as the final weeks of the Delran, N.J., native’s playing career wind down.
All of Gotham’s players wore shirts during pregame warmups with Lloyd’s name and perennial No. 10 on the back. During the traditional starting lineup photo before kickoff, they all surrounded her, turned their backs to the cameras and pointed at her or her name as she faced forward.
And of course, there were deafening cheers for Lloyd from the crowd of 9,532 whenever she was near the ball. Which she was often, with 42 touches, 3 shots, and 7 duels won.
The game ended scoreless, and Gotham (6-5-8, 26 points) fell to eighth place in the standings, two points back of the final playoff spot. But the cheers kept going through and well after a postgame ceremony in Lloyd’s honor.
“Philly, thank you for coming out tonight,” Gotham FC interim general manager Yael Averbuch West said at the event’s start. “I’m very grateful we could give Carli the opportunity to play in front of her hometown crowd one last time.”
Lloyd took a long, deep breath and momentarily got choked up as she stood on the field alone and the fans cheered.
“The crowd tonight, this is what we need at every NWSL game,” she said. “We need your support, we need you to keep coming out, supporting these amazing women here.”
She thanked the Union, the NWSL and Gotham FC for making the game happen.
“I know it was an inconvenience to some, moving from Red Bull [Arena, Gotham’s home] to down here, but it truly meant the world to me,” Lloyd said, “and I cannot express how thankful and grateful I am for that.”
Toward the end, Lloyd got to the most poignant thanks of all.
“I think the greatest gift that I’ve had towards the end of my career is having my family here by my side,” she said, a reference to having been estranged from many of them for over a decade. She reconnected with them during the pandemic, and has spoken often this year about how much it means to her.
‘Taking in the crowds’
Lloyd spoke of how much she’ll miss the bright lights and the big crowds; and the little moments of grinding every day that took her to the pinnacle of international sports: two World Cup titles, two Olympic gold medals, and two FIFA women’s player of the year awards.
“I’ve usually zoned out the crowd my entire career ... I’m not zoning things out since I announced my retirement,” she said in a news conference after the ceremony. “I’m never going to get to have this feeling again.”
She said she heard the fans “loud and clear, I heard the chants, I saw posters, jerseys. It’s incredible, the support. I’m incredibly grateful.”
And it meant a little more to have the stage be a stadium whose history she has helped write a big chapter of. Lloyd has played in all seven of the U.S. women’s team’s visits to Chester to date. She also played twice at Lincoln Financial Field, including a 2019 World Cup victory tour game that drew 49,504 fans - the largest crowd for a standalone U.S. women’s friendly in program history.
“Every time I’ve been able to come here [to] play, at the Linc too, it just feels like home,” she said. “I had an amazing amount of family here, friends here, Delran people were here, my former teammates from my Medford strikers club were here. ... I wish I could have said hello to every single one of them, but it was just it was just great to be a part of this atmosphere tonight.”
Gotham has five regular-season games left, four on the road and the finale at Red Bull Arena on Oct. 31. Lloyd also has two national team games left, both against South Korea, Oct. 21 in Kansas City, Kan., and Oct. 26 in St. Paul, Minn.
At the end of Lloyd’s remarks on the field, her teammates charged toward her to dunk her with a Gatorade shower. She showed up to her postgame news conference still chilled.
It was a moment of joy at a time when those players, and players all across the NWSL, have had far too little of it for too long.
“The fact of the matter is, 95% of that locker room could make more money doing something else. They do this because they love it, they do this because they care about it,” Gotham manager Scott Parkinson said. “So if we’re not going to find time to smile, if we’re not going to find time to find joy in the game, then what are we doing it for? To see them for 90 minutes look like footballers again was just wonderful for my soul, as well as as theirs, I’m sure.”
Gothanm defender Imani Dorsey thanked Parkinson and his staff for “doing the best they can to keep this team together and we’re doing the best we can to support one another.”
That included, amid everything, playing a game. A goalless game, yes, but still a game, and no one involved wanted anyone to forget that.
“You saw two teams coming out and giving the best that they could,” Lloyd said, “in probably one of the worst weeks this league has ever seen.”