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Losing the 2011 World Cup Final Was a Blessing In Disguise For Carli Lloyd and the USWNT

@kellycarli2

Scanning the timeline of Carli Lloyd’s iconic soccer career, there is an obvious pinnacle: her stunning hat trick in the 2015 World Cup Final versus Japan. That single performance was life-changing, leading to numerous TV appearances, big deal endorsements, speaking tours, and even a book deal — all the ingredients necessary for her to maintain her stature and personal brand long after her playing career ends.

Four years prior to this historic accomplishment, Lloyd missed a penalty kick in the final match of the 2011 World Cup, also against Japan. Lloyd’s whiff could have been a permanent stain on her resume, and at the time, she was clearly crushed by her miscue. But in a recent conversation with her friend and long-time teammate Kelley O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports podcast, Lloyd admitted to now seeing that heartbreaking moment as a blessing in disguise for both herself and the team.

Going into the 2011 World Cup in Germany, the USWNT was number one in the world and the reigning Olympic Champions, but they hadn’t won a World Cup championship since the legendary 1999ers did so in the Rose Bowl. After going 2 – 1 in group play, the U.S. beat a daunting Brazil side in what was arguably the most thrilling victory in team history. Abby Wambach scored an equalizer in the second minute of stoppage time of extra time, and the U.S. then won on PKs. After 122 minutes of playing, Lloyd confidently hit the back of the net with her penalty kick.

Unfortunately, the high of this victory ended just days later in another penalty kick showdown, this time against Japan in the finals. Lloyd remembers overthinking things in the moments leading up to her kick.

“I’m playing mind games with myself because I’m like, ‘Should I change my side?’” she recalls to O’Hara, “You know the Japanese players. They are diligent. They study. They know exactly where we are going to be shooting it.”

After watching her missed shot sail over the crossbar, Lloyd admits to O’Hara that she felt like a “failure.” Even though she was only one of three U.S. players to miss their PK that day, she carried the weight of having let down her team for a long time after.

Inside U.S. soccer circles, the 2011 World Cup, and specifically the epic quarterfinals against Brazil, is well-known as a turning point in USWNT popularity. The most likely explanation is a timely combination of factors: a universally thrilling soccer match, enhanced media coverage, and the recent ubiquity of social media (specifically Twitter), which revealed an untapped and fast-growing fanbase for the team.

“From that point on, everybody started following us,” Lloyd reminisces with O’Hara, “Everybody wanted to watch us. Everybody wanted us to be successful… With social media, it just became this big, big thing.”

Going into the 2015 World Cup in Canada, the U.S. squad’s dominant international standing meant even more pressure to win it all this time around. After surviving their “Group of Death” with a defensive-minded, reactionary approach, Lloyd recalls a shift occurring in their quarterfinal against China. With Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday (then Cheney) out for the match with yellow-card suspensions, Lloyd was moved up-field and was more free to attack. The USWNT stopped letting the other team set the tone and instead started imposing themselves on their opponents. More precisely, Lloyd started imposing herself on everyone by putting the ball in the net. She scored their only goal in the quarterfinals and another goal in their 2-0 win over Germany in the semis. By the time they reached the finals against Japan once again, Lloyd recalls feeling like she was “just out there playing free.”

Her joyful and confident mental state materialized into one of the greatest single game soccer performances of all time. Within just six minutes she had put the U.S. up 2-0. And ten minutes later she scored the most exhilarating goal of her career: a perfectly struck ball from half-field that sailed over the keeper’s head, skimmed off her fingertips, and kissed the goal post on its way into the net.

“When the ball came off my foot, it was the most well-struck ball,” she tells O’Hara, “I’m like wow, I just hit that perfectly. I just felt it.”

With that magical shot, Lloyd became only the second person to ever score a hat trick in a World Cup Final and the first since 1966.

The fanfare that followed their 5-2 victory was life-changing not only for Lloyd, but the entire USWNT organization.

“It just was one big explosion. Everything took off,” she recalls with O’Hara, “We had appearances and endorsements that we all were able to be a part of. It was absolutely game-changing for women’s soccer.”

Would the wave of national glory and mainstream prominence in 2015 have been quite as high had they already won the title four years prior in 2011? From where she stands today, Lloyd is willing to re-envision that 2011 failure as serving their benefit in the end.

“Maybe it was just better for all of us that we had to wait 16 years to win,” she suggests to O’Hara. “Maybe we needed that momentum, you know, for everybody to get on board.”

It’s a convincing theory given that what we love most about sports are the universally relatable human stories which unfold both on and off the field: the dramatic rises and falls, the villains and the underdogs, the comebacks and the triumphs. If that heart-wrenching loss in 2011 was necessary for the USWNT to garner the massive following they have today, then we agree with you Carli, it was absolutely worth it.

Listen to Carli Lloyd’s full conversation with Kelley O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports podcast here.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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