MONTREAL — Carli Lloyd’s career is defined by big moments.
The latest came in the U.S. victory Friday over China, with a goal that ultimately sent the Americans through to the semifinals at the Women’s World Cup.
Now with goals in consecutive games for the United States, the 32-year-old midfielder could face her biggest challenge in top-ranked Germany on Tuesday.
“I don’t just train to be a participant,” she said. “I train to come up big in big moments. That’s when I know I’ve got to roll the sleeves up.”
It wasn’t always this way. In 2003 Lloyd was cut from the under-21 national team and she was so discouraged that she decided to quit the sport after playing out her career at Rutgers.
But, in what would turn out to be her pivotal moment as a soccer player, the New Jersey native reached out to coach James Galanis, who went on to become her personal coach and mentor.
Lloyd often speaks of Galanis’ contribution to her career, and how whenever she has doubts it is Galanis who reels her back in. Lloyd would face challenges under former U.S. coaches Greg Ryan and Pia Sundhage, constantly trying to prove she belonged in the starting lineup.
“I think over the years I’ve earned the respect of my teammates, as someone who first got on the scene and wasn’t internationally ready, and has just continued to put in the work,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd and her team had struggled to find their offense in the group stage at this year’s World Cup. The goals were not coming like the team — and their fans — had expected.
The United States nonetheless advanced atop its group to the knockout stage, then had a lackluster 2-0 victory against Colombia in the round of 16, scoring both goals in the second half with Colombia down a player.
Lloyd scored for the first time in the tournament, on a penalty kick, against Colombia.
Afterward she said: “At the end of the day, we all know we’re not playing our best football, and we’re still finding ways to win. I think that the history of this team is no matter if it’s good, bad, we still find a way to get it done.”
The turnaround came on Friday, when the United States defeated China 1-0 in the quarterfinals. Lloyd scored the lone goal in what looked like the most inspired performance by the U.S. team so far in Canada.
Lloyd, wearing the captain’s armband for the match, was helped by the play of Morgan Brian, who started in place of midfielder Lauren Holiday. Brian sat back as a holding midfielder, allowing Lloyd to move around more freely up top.
Holiday and fellow midfielder Megan Rapinoe were suspended for the match because of accumulated yellows. Both will be able to return against Germany.
Lloyd’s breakthrough was her 65th goal in 200 international appearances. Julie Johnston lofted a long ball into the penalty area and Lloyd met it with her head from 10 yards from out and it bounced past goalkeeper Fei Wang in the 51st minute.
Afterward, Lloyd said Galanis would be proud.
“He’s served a million balls to me over the years, and he’s kept telling me I need to be an aerial presence and attack the ball,” she said.
Heroics are nothing new to Lloyd: She scored the winning goal in overtime to beat Brazil for the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and scored both U.S. goals in the 2012 London Olympics final against Japan. She’s the only player to score the winning goals in consecutive Olympic finals.
Now comes Germany, and Lloyd certainly has the chance to build on her legacy. With Rapinoe and Holiday back, it’s uncertain how coach Jill Ellis will approach the match. And Ellis isn’t saying.
Germany poses a considerable challenge to the Americans. The German team won its quarterfinal by beating third-ranked France 5-4 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie. The United States has an 18-4-7 record against Germany, including a 3-2 edge in World Cup matches.
Lloyd, who often points to the success of her teammates more than her own, predicted a group effort.
“We’ve got the momentum now, which is most important,” she said. “It took us five games to get it going. That’s what is great about this team: Everybody steps up. Everybody contributes.”
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