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Carli Lloyd plays her final U.S. national team game and gets a salute from fans and family

“I think the way I feel now,” she said at the end of the night, “is literally the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Carli Lloyd (10) waves to the crowd as Megan Rapinoe (15) leads the cheers and Lindsey Horan (9) looks on as Lloyd prepares to leave the field during her last U.S. national team game, Tuesday night against South Korea at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn.
Carli Lloyd (10) waves to the crowd as Megan Rapinoe (15) leads the cheers and Lindsey Horan (9) looks on as Lloyd prepares to leave the field during her last U.S. national team game, Tuesday night against South Korea at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn.Read moreJonathan Tannenwald / Staff

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Fans came from across the breadth of the Twin Cities, in the shadow of where the U.S. women’s soccer team played its inaugural game 35 years ago, to a soccer palace emblematic of the sport’s present and future.

Fans came from across the country, as they came to Canada in 2015 and France in 2019, and so many other times between and since to spend another night celebrating a dynasty.

And special fans came from South Jersey, 30 or so family and friends, to watch the limelight shine on someone who to them was much more than just one of the greatest players in the sport’s history.

The spotlight hasn’t always shone on Carli Lloyd the way it did Tuesday at Allianz Field, before the U.S. national team’s game against South Korea. It didn’t shine when she was at Delran High or Rutgers; or when she was cut from the national team in her early years in the program; or when she was moved from attacking midfield to defensive midfield and back, and then to forward toward the end.

But here it was now, turned all the way up.

» READ MORE: Carli Lloyd reflects on the cost of greatness as her career ends

All day, the national team’s social media feeds posted video tributes from across soccer and the sports world.

“Your career is truly legendary,” said Tom Brady, the superstar quarterback whom Lloyd has long admired for winning on the field and against Father Time. (But not against her beloved Eagles, of course, in a Super Bowl played a few miles from here.)

“I’ve been following you since I was nearly born,” said Brenden Aaronson, the Union alum and rising U.S. men’s team star from Medford whose parents live near Lloyd’s current home. “You’ve been a role model to everybody, and I just want to say congrats on an incredible, incredible career.”

“Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for being an incredible teammate,” said Tobin Heath, who rose from the other end of New Jersey to become one of Lloyd’s longtime colleagues. “I don’t know this team without you. You’ve really steered the ship for us all these years.”

“Carli is just such an awesome example of [bleep] the haters, I’m going to do me,” said U.S. midfielder Samantha Mewis, who’s as popular for her Massachusetts-bred gusto as for her skills. But she admitted she “hasn’t always had that” spirit in public, and credited Lloyd for helping instill it.

Her family’s love

There were further salutes from Hall of Fame broadcasters Andrés Cantor and JP Dellacamera, who called her legendary hat trick in the 2015 World Cup final and other famous moments. Actress Sophia Bush, who has never been shy about her fandom of the U.S. team, voiced a reading of former president Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man In The Arena” with a photo montage of Lloyd’s career.

But perhaps the most poignant tribute came from Lloyd’s father, Steve, part of a family from whom Lloyd was estranged for a dozen years while working with former trainer James Galanis. In fact, it was Steve specifically who was at the center of the rupture.

“God has blessed you with a unique talent and drive, and you have taken it to the max,” he said. “For 12 of those years, we watched from afar, but our prayers have been answered and we get to share these emotional and memorable final games as a family. I am so proud of you, of the records you have broken you have won — I am most proud of the strong and confident woman you are.”

“All those hours of travel, tryouts and tournaments were just small steps towards a goal I don’t think any of us could comprehend. Despite the rigorous schedule, the success and failures, you never complained.”

Now, he said, “you have fulfilled your dreams and done it without compromise.”

There was a short pregame ceremony in which U.S. Soccer Federation president Cindy Parlow Cone and women’s national team general manager Kate Markgraf, both former star players, presented Lloyd with a framed jersey that bore Lloyd’s name and the message “316 CAPS,” marking her career total games played with the team.

Then Lloyd’s husband, parents and extended family came on to the field for a photo, a moment that left Lloyd’s mother Pamela in tears and Lloyd herself on the verge of them. There was a longer ceremony after the final whistle. And in between, there was the game.

As the packed crowd chanted Lloyd’s name, she took the kickoff surrounded by a starting lineup that mostly came from the next generation of U.S. players. They are now tasked with carrying on the legacy of success that Lloyd did so much to build.

» READ MORE: Carli Lloyd thanks Philadelphia soccer fans for giving her a NWSL homecoming game she’ll never forget

The end arrives

In the 65th minute, Lloyd exited to a standing ovation from fans and teammates alike. Megan Rapinoe led the cheers, exhorting the crowd of 18,115 before being one of many players to give Lloyd a long hug.

Lloyd took her time on the way off the field, removing her cleats as she soaked in the moment. There was no rush, as the game was just a friendly at the end of the U.S. team’s post-Olympic tour.

As she approached the sideline, Lloyd removed her jersey to reveal another jersey underneath it bearing her married name, Hollins. Now she will officially go by that. She said after the game that her husband, Brian, didn’t know it was coming.

“He’s been supporting me every step of the way, he hasn’t complained once, and I couldn’t have done this journey without him,” she said in her postgame news conference.

Hollins blew a kiss toward her family in the stands, then reached the awaiting Alex Morgan. Those two played together and battled for starters’ minutes for years, and now here they were in a final embrace of friendship.

The game was a 6-0 U.S. win, with goals from Lindsey Horan (ninth minute), an own goal (45th) Morgan (69th), Rapinoe (85th), Rose Lavelle (89th), and Lynn Williams (92nd).

Soon after the final whistle, the stadium lights went down. Hollins’ husband, Brian, hosted a tribute on the video board. Then she addressed the crowd for a few minutes, thanking them, teammates, coaches, and behind-the-scenes staff.

“This is a team sport, but there’s a team behind the team, and none of you see that,” Hollins said as she fought back tears. “We started off with a support staff that has been small, and now it’s actually gone bigger than the amount of players we have. But everybody has played a role.”

» READ MORE: Becky Sauerbrunn, Alex Morgan and Lindsey Horan pay tribute to Carli Lloyd's historic career

A happy ending

At the end, she signed off, dropped the mic, and embarked on a lap of honor around the stadium to take in one final round of cheers.

“I have been absolutely grateful for every opportunity that I’ve stepped out on this field, and I hope that you know that I gave it everything I had for every single one of you,” she said. “You will not see me on the field, but you’d best believe that I will be around helping this game grow.”

In the postgame news conferences, midfielder Andi Sullivan — a potential heir to Hollins’ throne as U.S. captain — reflected on the impact Hollins has had on the new generation of rising stars.

“We’ve all kind of separately and collectively said we want to carry on her legacy of just, her work rate, her commitment, going forward,” Sullivan said. “And that we need that, and that’s what has made this team so successful — it’s people like Carli and people who have helped shape her and paved her way. And she’s done that for us, and we need to continue to do the same.”

When Hollins heard about that, she was deeply moved.

“To hear the impact that I’ve had on so many players, so many younger players, that’s almost more rewarding than anything I’ve ever achieved,” she said. “Because it’s an honor to wear this crest, it’s an honor to play for your country, and the culture of this team has just been embedded and ingrained in this crest since the start. … I don’t really think I fully understand the impact that I’ve had, but it’s one of the greatest things that I’ve heard closing out my career.”

Then, finally, came the end.

“I think the way I feel now,” Hollins said, “is literally the happiest I’ve ever been.”