Carli Lloyd was out at a field in Marlton playing in a pickup soccer game earlier this week. It was the end of her winter break, and as she put it, the night was a chance to “freely try different things, make mistakes, just kind of get my feet wet and get back into it.”
Now it’s time to get back to work. Lloyd and her U.S. women’s soccer team colleagues head to Europe on Saturday for a week-and-a-half of training in Portugal, then games at France and Spain.
The Americans' depth of talent is perhaps the best it has ever been, even greater than when they won the World Cup four years ago. But because of injuries and other factors, the pieces haven’t always come together. This trip would be a good time for that to happen.
What will Lloyd’s place be in the puzzle? U.S. coach Jill Ellis has made it clear that she views Lloyd as a substitute now, not a starter, because Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle are better playmakers.
But Ellis knows Lloyd’s knack for clutch scoring is still valuable. So in recent months, Lloyd has been deployed as effectively the backup to striker Alex Morgan.
Morgan isn’t going anywhere, of course. She is the Americans' biggest star, and backed it up in 2018 with team highs of 18 goals and 1,500 minutes played for the national team.
So Lloyd, 36, is on the outside looking in. A few months ago, she told the New York Times that she wasn’t happy about her demotion. Some fans didn’t want to hear it, since the team has played so well without her. But give her this much: What player wants to be benched, especially one with so much competitive fire?
Lloyd said she has talked a lot with Ellis, including when both were in Paris last month for the World Cup draw. There is, Lloyd said, a “mutual respect.”
“She’s grooming and getting some of these younger players ready and getting that experience, which is totally fine and I totally support that,” Lloyd said this week. “But I’m the type of person and player that is going to continue to fight. I think it would be doing myself, and all the years of hard work, and my teammates a disservice if I wasn’t going to just fight until the end. I know that there’s a place for me to really help this team win, and I’m going to continue to train, get better, get fit, get sharp, get smarter."
The U.S. program’s winter training camp is an annual tradition, but it’s usually held in California. With the World Cup in France looming this summer, Ellis wants her players to get used to life abroad. This will be the second overseas tour in three months, after a trip to Portugal and Scotland in November.
Lloyd is on board with getting the national team out of its comfort zone, especially newer players not used to the kind of globetrotting she has done. The Delran native has played in World Cups and Olympics across four continents, and spent four months at English club Manchester City in 2017.
“Any time you’re in an uncomfortable environment, that’s when you do all your growing,” she said. “To have gone over there, in front of, you know, several hundred people — versus when you’re here and you’ve got 15 to 20,000 people screaming your name and chanting, “U-S-A!” — it’s a different feeling."
That was a reference to the crowd at the U.S.-Portugal game, which drew an announced crowd of 980 fans to an 8,000-seat stadium outside Lisbon. The crowd in Scotland was a more respectable 3,790.
Expect no such problems for the game at France on Jan. 19 (2:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1). It’s always a big occasion when these women’s soccer superpowers meet. The U.S. has won just four of the nations' last eight matchups, and hasn’t beaten Les Bleues since 2016.
This will be the first meeting on French soil since 2015. It will take place in Le Havre, one of the World Cup’s nine host cities. (The U.S. will play its group stage finale against Sweden there.)
On Jan. 22, the U.S. will play Spain in Alicante (2:30 p.m., ESPN2 and Univision Deportes). La Roja will be at the World Cup for the second time ever, and hosting the U.S. will further boost the country’s rising women’s soccer culture. Spain won its World Cup qualifying group, is No. 12 in FIFA’s rankings, and could upset a World Cup group with Germany, China, and South Africa.
Ellis called in 26 players this time. Notable inclusions are goalkeeper Jane Campbell, included for the first time since April; defender Tierna Davidson, who suffered a broken ankle playing for Stanford in September; defender Emily Fox, of the U.S. under-20 team and the University of North Carolina; and midfielder McCall Zerboni, out since September with a broken elbow. Midfielder Danielle Colaprico and forward Jessica McDonald received return invitations after breaking into the national team pool in November.
Update: Midfielder Andi Sullivan was added to the roster on Jan. 7.
Goalkeepers (4): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
Defenders (8): Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage), Tierna Davidson (Stanford University), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina Courage), Emily Fox (University of North Carolina), Kelley O’Hara (Utah Royals), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns)
Midfielders (8): Morgan Brian (Chicago Red Stars), Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit), Samantha Mewis (North Carolina Courage), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit), McCall Zerboni (North Carolina Courage)