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A statement goal from Carli Lloyd likely punched her ticket to the Olympics

Lloyd scored just 23 seconds into the United States' 4-0 win over Jamaica on Sunday night. “I think she’s in a really good place,” U.S. manager Vlatko Andonovski said.

Carli Lloyd slides on the turf after scoring just 24 seconds into the United States' 4-0 win over Jamaica on Sunday in Houston.
Carli Lloyd slides on the turf after scoring just 24 seconds into the United States' 4-0 win over Jamaica on Sunday in Houston.Read moreMichael Wyke / AP

It’s understandable that U.S. women’s soccer team manager Vlatko Andonovski hasn’t given much away about how he’s projecting his roster for the coming Olympics.

It also makes sense for Andonovski to say, as he has noted repeatedly, that he’s giving everyone in contention every chance to make the 18-player squad.

Once in a while, though, Andonovski has let something slip.

Last week, for example, he said that if injured winger Tobin Heath “is going to be close to 100% by the Olympic camp, her chances to make the team are pretty good.” And back in October when Catarina Macario got her FIFA paperwork approved to play for the U.S., Andonovski famously said, “I think that she will be ready for Tokyo.”

There are no guarantees, of course, nor should there be on the world’s No. 1 women’s soccer team. But it’s notable that Andonovski hasn’t cast Carli Lloyd in those terms.

There was ample speculation on that subject coming into the U.S. team’s game Sunday night against Jamaica in Houston. Lloyd entered it with just one goal in 433 minutes over eight national team contests this year — and it was against Argentina, the worst team the Americans faced in that span.

» READ MORE: Catarina Macario is on her way to becoming the USWNT’s next big star

With the NWSL’s Gotham FC, she has two goals in nine games, including a superb equalizer in the Challenge Cup final.

So when the Delran native was included in Sunday’s starting lineup, the spotlight immediately went on her. Here was a chance to make a statement, for a player who’s been scoring statement goals since the 2008 Olympic gold-medal game.

It took just 23 seconds after kickoff for her to do it again.

On the Americans’ first foray of the night, Lloyd trapped a cross from Rose Lavelle and fired it to the far post to open the scoring in what ended up a 4-0 rout. She became the oldest scorer in U.S. women’s team history at 38 years and 332 days, eclipsing Kristine Lilly’s previous record of 38 years, 264 days.

She did not, however, claim the record for fastest goal in team history. Alex Morgan still holds that mark, having scored in 12 seconds in a 2016 game.

Lloyd was subbed off at halftime, a sign she’d made the points that needed making. After the game, Andonovski was asked where things stood with her.

“I don’t know if I can answer directly, and I don’t think I’ll be able to answer directly about any player — not just Carli, any player on this team — until I really have to,” he said. “But I will say that I was happy with her performance. [She] comes in, scores a goal, sets the pace for the team and does well overall, not just in this game but in the previous games and in training.”

» READ MORE: Sam Mewis believes she's still fighting for a place on the USWNT's Olympic team

A year of big changes

Andonovski knows that the “really have to” time is coming soon. He will pick the team not long after Wednesday’s friendly against Nigeria in Austin, Texas (8 p.m., ESPN2), and it seems clear right now that Lloyd will be on it.

“I think she’s in a really good place,” Andonovski said.

He’s right for reasons that go beyond the field. During the pandemic, Lloyd reconciled with family members from whom she’d stayed away for many years; had the first major surgery of her career; and split from her longtime trainer James Galanis.

The first move refreshed her mentally and the other two refreshed her physically, with the new trainer — Jefferson University’s Danny Madaroski — installing a different kind of workout regimen.

Lloyd also said those changes “wouldn’t have happened” if the pandemic hadn’t postponed the Olympics by a year.

“I’ve been doing so much studying of different forwards: positioning, runs, checking into the pocket, getting in behind the backline, different finishing, being better with my first touch, being better with [my] back to goal, holding the ball up,” she said. “There’s been so many things that I’ve worked on and tried to finesse in the last year or so. So I’m actually, I think, in a better position than I was back in 2020.”

Some things about Lloyd haven’t changed, including an internal fire fueled by critical fans and media. It burned as brightly as ever Sunday night.

“I literally haven’t switched off for 17, 18 years — it’s been hard-core craziness,” she said. “I’m sure my husband and friends and family are going to be excited when I’m done playing, because I’ll actually get to do things, but it’s been all worth it to me. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, I don’t have any regrets.”

It’s an essential part of her nature that she has, as she put it, “done everything possible to continue to play to this point.”

And it’s pretty clear that she won’t let up any time soon, especially if she gets a ticket to Tokyo in a few days.

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