Last year was one of the worst of Carli Lloyd’s otherwise-epic soccer career. She contracted COVID-19 (she thinks), didn’t play a game for her National Women’s Soccer League team, started just five matches for the women’s national team, saw the Olympics postponed and underwent surgery for the first time.
It was also one of the best years of her life, though, because the down time allowed her to reconnect with a family from which she has long been estranged.
“It’s probably been the most touching year that I’ve ever had,” Lloyd said by phone from Stockholm, where the U.S. will meet Sweden on Saturday as part of its preparation for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
If Lloyd plays in that game, she’ll join former teammates Kristine Lilly and Christie Rampone (née Pearce) as the third player to appear in 300 international games. But the real milestone achievement will come afterward, when she receives calls and messages of congratulations from relatives she wasn’t talking to just a few months ago.
Lloyd entered 2020 having gone a dozen years without speaking to her parents and brother, a rift she wrote about in her 2016 book “When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World.”
As Lloyd grew more independent and rebellious after college, she began embracing the sometimes-quirky philosophies of personal coach James Galanis, a man she approvingly called her guru, at the expense of a relationship with her family.
In 2008, in a fit of anger, her father Steve threw her out of the house, Lloyd wrote, completing the rupture.
When Steve had open-heart surgery, no one told Lloyd until well afterward. When her sister got married, Lloyd wasn’t invited to the ceremony. And when she turned in arguably the single-greatest performance in a World Cup final in 2015, earning the first of two world player of the year awards, Galanis accompanied Lloyd to Zurich for the awards gala, not her parents.
Last year, sidelined by both a global pandemic and knee surgery, Lloyd reflected on all that. And with the end of her unparalleled career in sight, she cut ties with Galanis and phoned her parents.
“I started communicating with my family, had them over at my house. They’d never been there,” she said. “And after that it’s, you know, been back to normal — 2020 has definitely been one of the most special years of my life.
“I’m super grateful we’re back in each other’s lives. I feel like there’s [been] a rebirth of myself. I feel happier. I feel like the weight of the world is off my shoulders.”
Galanis, who was introduced to Lloyd by her father, transformed her from a talented if undisciplined college player into one of the fittest, most technical players in the world. His unorthodox methods including solo workouts and mind-numbing repetitions of sit-ups and push-ups that made Lloyd both physically and mentally tough.
How tough? Last year Lloyd played 90 minutes in a 4-0 win over Mexico that qualified the U.S. for the Olympics despite, she believes, having been infected with COVID-19.
“I actually ran 600 meters more than the next-highest player,” she said proudly.
Lloyd now works with Danny Madaroski, a former Galanis assistant and volunteer coach at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. But she hasn’t lost any of her edge.
“I’ve never felt this fit in my career,” Lloyd said. “I’ve never felt this explosive. My game has evolved over the years and I’ve become smarter tactically as well.”
She’s also retained the chip she’s carried on her shoulder for much of her career. That will to prove doubters wrong has fueled her drive and built a legacy that might never be matched.
Consider: Lloyd is the only player, male or female, to score the winning goal in two Olympic tournaments and the only woman with a hat trick in a World Cup final. Mia Hamm is the only other American to win two world player of the year awards, but she didn’t play 300 games. And if Lloyd wins another gold medal this summer, she’ll join Rampone as the only players to win three Olympic titles and two World Cups.
“When I have my back up against the wall, coach benches me, things aren’t going we well on the field with the team, that’s where I take it two to three notches higher,” she said. “Some people crumble under the pressure but I absolutely love it.
“I just love proving people wrong. I love defying odds.”
She might continue doing that even after the Olympics, which was to be her farewell tournament. She’ll be 39 by then, but now she’s not so sure she’s ready to walk away, citing the ageless Tom Brady, a Super Bowl MVP at 43, as her inspiration.
Besides, there’s another World Cup in two years and her family has not been present when she’s won one of those.
“To have them in my life at the end of my career I think is really special.” Lloyd said. “They were there in the beginning and now they’re there in the end. I just think things happen for a reason and I’m just incredibly grateful that I had time to see things clearly in 2020, to think, to reflect.
“It’s been the best thing that’s come out of 2020 for me.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.