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‘We want to carry on her legacy’: Carli Lloyd completes final mission with USWNT

(Bri Lewerke/Just Women's Sports)

When Carli Lloyd stepped onto the pitch Tuesday night for the last time in a U.S. women’s national soccer team jersey, a starting lineup of young players took the field with her.

This was Lloyd’s farewell match, but she told the starters in the locker room before kickoff that the game was about them, and it was their opportunity to shape the future of the USWNT. The players took her message to heart, dismantling Korea Republic with clinical play in the final third for a 6-0 win.

“We all kind of separately and collectively said we want to carry on her legacy of just her work rate, her commitment going forward and that we need that,” said Andi Sullivan, the 25-year-old midfielder who was a part of the starting XI.

“That’s what has made this team so successful, is people like Carli and people before her who have helped shape her and pave her way and she’s done that for us, so we need to continue to do the same. It’s been very emotional, but we’re going to use that all as fuel and use it to help us be successful in the future.”

Lloyd has said she had “tunnel vision” in the past. She dedicated herself to her craft, often putting in more training hours than anyone else on the team. That laser focus is what made her so successful, winning two FIFA Player of the Year awards and scoring some of the most notable goals in USWNT history, but it’s also what caused her to drift from her teammates and coaches at times.

After the game Tuesday, Lloyd said that she wouldn’t have done anything differently during her career, but she’s also been more attentive this year to making sure the USWNT is well equipped for the future. That’s included passing down her wisdom to the younger players, helping them understand the culture of the team and the responsibility that comes with wearing the crest.

“I feel that I’ve really been alive and just been a bit more vulnerable these last several months after announcing my retirement,” she said. “I’ve just went about my career as somebody who just wants to get better every single day, and to hear the impact that I’ve had on so many players, so many younger players, is almost more rewarding than anything I’ve ever achieved.”

Lloyd wraps up her career with 316 caps and 134 international goals, the fourth most all-time in women’s and men’s U.S. national team history. She didn’t net any, however, in Tuesday’s win over Korea Republic. Perhaps it was an ending symbolic of Lloyd’s final charge with the USWNT, to leave the team better off than when she joined it in 2005.

Last week, Lloyd announced she would hand off the No. 10 jersey to Lindsey Horan after Tuesday’s game. It was fitting then that Horan scored the first goal of the game in Carli Lloyd fashion, in the ninth minute while wearing her No. 9 jersey for the final time.

Horan, who described Lloyd as her role model, was able to hear more about Lloyd’s experiences with the national team when the two shared a meal table at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Having conversations with her and hearing her stories and what she’s been through with this national team, things that no one else knows, is really, really cool,” Horan said. “I think those are the moments that last forever for us and are kind of the most important.”

Sullivan has also shared many valuable encounters with Lloyd. She sits behind the 39-year-old on the team bus and sometimes picks her brain for wisdom. In the camp before she was cut from the Olympic roster, Sullivan asked Lloyd for advice on how to make a soccer career so successful.

“You have to not care what people think about you, in a positive way, where you have this undeniable belief and confidence in yourself,” Lloyd told her.

“I think that has really sat with me and helped me through my NWSL season that helped me to come back here, so I’m definitely going to carry that with me in my career,” Sullivan said on Tuesday.

Sullivan was one of six players on Tuesday’s roster aged 25 or younger. At the Tokyo Olympics, there was only one (Tierna Davidson).

“I think there’s been a little changing of the guard,” said Lloyd. “There’s obviously a different generation. Players are so technically gifted. We have some unbelievable talent that’s coming through the mix and tonight you got to see that, which I think is really exciting.”

Lloyd still has two regular season games left with her club, NJ/NY Gotham FC, and more in the playoffs should they advance. But on the international stage, she’s signing off.

“I’m excited to see the future of this team,” Lloyd said. “I’m saying goodbye on the field, but I want to continue to help in any way possible. I’m going to be the biggest fan, the biggest cheerleader, and I want to see this team continue to succeed.”