Opinion: Carli Lloyd keeps on grinding after injury because that’s what Carli Lloyd does

Carli Lloyd is grittier than pretty much everyone.

Here she is, six months shy of her 39th birthday, going the full 90 minutes in her first game since March. After having the first surgery of her career last year, no less.

If you expected anything less, you really don’t know much about Lloyd.

“It wasn’t a question of not returning,” she said Monday night, after assisting on two goals in the U.S. women’s 4-0 victory over Colombia.

“The previous injuries I’ve had, there’s always been a timetable and a rush to get back. This literally gave me time to shut off,” she said. “I’m feeling good — this is probably the best I’ve felt. I think I’ll know the right time to hang the boots up.”

Carli Lloyd and Colombia's Kelly Ibarguen fight for a header during the second half at Exploria Stadium. (Photo: Douglas P. DeFelice, Getty Images)

Cut from the Under-21 team in 2003, Lloyd has spent the rest of her career outworking, out-training, out-intensifying everyone. Which is no small thing on a team that has won the last two World Cups and boasts so much talent that those left off coach Vlatko Andonovski’s roster for the Tokyo Olympics could probably contend for a medal, too.

“She’s coming off a knee scope and playing 90 minutes. I think that’s incredible,” Andonovski said. “It was just a good example for some of the younger players in terms of what it takes to be on the next level.”

As sublime as Lloyd was at the 2015 World Cup, when her hat trick in the final against Japan secured the U.S. women’s first title since 1999, her experience in 2019 was just as miserable. Whether she fell out of favor with then-coach Jill Ellis or wasn’t a perfect fit in her tactical plan, Lloyd found herself in an unusual spot.

The bench.

Though she played in all seven matches, scoring three goals, she started just once, against Chile in the group stage. In the knockout rounds, she played all of 26 minutes, including three in the final. Her unhappiness was clear, and she indicated she had no desire to stick around for Tokyo if Ellis was the U.S. coach. 

But Ellis stepped down after the World Cup, and was replaced in October 2019 by Andonovski.

Though Andonovski shuffled his starting lineups during both Olympic qualifying and the SheBelieves Cup because of the compact schedules — there were just two days between the semifinals and final of the Olympic qualifying tournament — there was little doubt that he saw Lloyd having a significant role with his team. She started three games in Olympic qualifying, and was in the starting lineup against the toughest opponents at SheBelieves, England and Spain.

Lloyd missed the entire NWSL season last year after a knee injury during off-season training required surgery. She was absent, too, from the USWNT’s camps in October and November, the latter of which ended with a game against the Netherlands.

But as up-and-comers like Sophia Smith, Jaelin Howell and Catarina Macario joined the ranks, the veteran was still grinding.

“It took me a ways to get back and rebuild myself again,” Lloyd said. “I basically had to start all over again. I had to get myself fit. While doing that, I had to push my body through the pain of surgery.”

A less-determined person might have said enough. With two World Cup titles, an Olympic gold medal (from 2008) and FIFA Player of the Year honors in 2015 and 2016, it wasn’t as if she had anything more to prove. Or to accomplish.

As much as Lloyd loves the game, though, she loves the grind. There’s also the added incentive of wanting her family to see her play in one last major tournament.

Lloyd was estranged from her parents and siblings for more than a decade. But they reconnected within the last year, and Lloyd’s joy at having them back in her life is evident.

“I think it’s been pretty cool that things have come full circle for me. My family was at the start of my career and now they’re getting to be part of it at the end,” she said. “I’m really grateful.”

Don’t mistake this as the goodbye tour of yet another aging star, however.

Sam Mewis, who had her first career hat trick, talked of seeing Lloyd in warmups and thinking, “She got better.” In addition to Lloyd’s two assists, she was scrapping for possession. She also had several shots on goal, though they all seemed to go right to Colombian goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda.

“I guess I was pretty accurate,” Lloyd cracked.

Carli Lloyd shoots the ball against Colombia goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda. (Photo: Douglas P. DeFelice, Getty Images)

Turning serious, Lloyd said her timing has been the last thing to come back following the injury, and she knows that will improve.

But for her first game in 200-plus days, following an injury, she had no complaints.

“I just feel really good about where I am in life, who I am as a person and a player,” Lloyd said. “I just want to give everything I have to help the team and better myself. I’m just going to give it all I have, to the end.”

No one would expect anything less. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour. 

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