Carli Lloyd holds the World Cup trophy after the USWNT's win in 2019. (Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Carli Lloyd believes the U.S. women’s national team is facing the toughest ever road to a World Cup title as it prepares for the 2023 tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

“It’s going to be the hardest one to win yet,” Lloyd said Wednesday on CBS Sports’ Attacking Third podcast. “So we’ll see. I’m anxiously awaiting, just as much as anyone else.”

Lloyd, 40, won two World Cups in her 17 years with the USWNT before she retired in October 2021. While the title-winning teams in 2015 and 2019 faced arduous journeys of their own, the growth of women’s soccer around the world makes each new tournament more difficult than the last, Lloyd said.

“I think it’s going to be the biggest and best World Cup, I’ve been saying it over and over again, so many people have been saying it as well,” she said. “And it’s just a testament to how far the game has come.

“Each World Cup continues to get better and better. There’s obviously a lot more investment around the globe with all these teams and countries. So it’s going to be incredibly exciting.”

The USWNT will play in Group E, alongside 2019 runner-up Netherlands, Vietnam and an intercontinental playoff winner.

While the U.S. maintained the No. 1 spot in the FIFA world rankings despite back-to-back losses in October, and the Netherlands sit at No. 8 after a disappointing quarterfinal exit at this summer’s Euros, the Dutch teams still presents a “good challenge” in the group stage, according to Lloyd.

The three group-stage matches for the USWNT will be held in New Zealand, and the team will get an early preview of the venues when it visits the country for a six-day training camp and two friendlies against the Football Ferns in January.

“Everyone always kind of wants to try to figure out: What type of group is this? Is this the Group of Death? Is this a good group that we’ve drawn?” Lloyd said. “The thing with women’s football now is, you can’t take any group lightly. No group is an easy group any more.”

Ahead of the USWNT’s next friendly matches against Germany, which will take place next week on American soil, the team is facing roster questions after a spate of injuries and its recent losses to England and Spain.

Lloyd is not pressing the panic button, and she had high praise for 22-year-old forward Sophia Smith in particular, calling her “a sponge” for soccer knowledge. But she’s not ready to crown the USWNT yet either.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “You obviously have to take care of your group first, one game at a time, but as we all know, World Cups, they start and end very differently. And it’s going to be interesting to see in nine or 10 months who’s going to be lifting that trophy.”