One of the surprises of the USA's 4-0 win over Colombia on Monday was Vlatko Andonovski's decision to give Carli Lloyd 90 minutes.
Lloyd, who will turn 39 in July, is the oldest player on the national team and was playing her first competitive match in 10 months after sitting out Sky Blue FC campaign's 2020 campaign in the NWSL Challenge Cup and Fall Series.
“She’s coming off a knee scope and playing 90 minutes," Andonovski said. “I think that’s incredible. It was just a good example for some of the younger players in terms of what it takes to be on the next level.”
Lloyd was a reserve at the 2019 Women's World Cup -- "absolutely the worst time of my life," she said afterwar -- but scored 10 goals in 13 games over the second half of 2019 and in 2020. She said there's no question about her returning in 2021 for a run at making her fourth Olympic team.
"This was the longest hiatus and longest break mentally and physically that I’ve ever had in my career," she said in the postgame media call after the win over Colombia. "I’ve had been fortunate enough with injuries I’ve broken a lot of bones. This was unfortunately my first surgery. I thought I’d make it through my career without a surgery but I was pretty, pretty close."
Lloyd, who has 295 caps, said the pandemic shutdown allowed her time off she had not gotten before. “The previous injuries that I’ve had, there’s always been kind of a timetable and a rush to to somewhat get back," she said. "This gave me time to literally shut off and spend time with my husband and reconnect with my family, which I’m extremely grateful for, being at peace with a lot of things. I’m feeling really good. This is probably the best I’ve felt. I just have to keep going, keep pushing on. I’ll know the right time to hang the boots up.”
Lloyd's goal isn't just to make the Olympic team but to start. She's been vocal in her criticism of former national team coach Jill Ellisfor not starting her in France in 2019.
With Alex Morgan missed the start of the January camp after testing positive to COVID-19 and Christen Press at Manchester United, Lloyd was the obvious first-choice to start at center forward on Monday, but she is not the only option. Catarina Macario was finally eligible to play for the USA but she ended up playing the second half on the left wing in place of Megan Rapinoe because her former Stanford teammate, Sophia Smith, was injured in warm-ups. Smith was supposed to enter the game for Rapinoe.
Lloyd was the target of many long balls in the Colombia penalty area but couldn't add to her 123 career international goals, putting most of her headers straight to Colombia goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda.
“I guess I was pretty accurate,” she laughed.
More seriously, Lloyd, who recorded a pair of assists on goals on the Mewis sisters, Samantha and Kristie, said heading was the last thing she started working on at home.
"I was pretty happy with my timing, a little bit," said Lloyd, who has stopped working with James Galanis, her longtime personal coach. "But I still needed to kind of be a little bit more accurate and get a little bit more power behind it."
Lloyd only played six U.S. games in 2020, the fewest in more than a decade, but the time off allowed her to not only recharge physically but also mentally.
“I think it’s been pretty cool that things have come full circle for me," she said of the chance of the chance to spend the holidays with her family. "My family was at the start of my career and now they’re getting to be part of it at the end. I’m really grateful.”