No gender qualification needed, Carli Lloyd is the GOAT

At some point during the 12 hours since the U.S. women’s national team lifted the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy, Carli Lloyd had to go to the bathroom.

I point out her need for bathroom relief just to raise the point that, at some point between last night and Monday afternoon, Lloyd sat down, alone. As she sat, quite possibly after pinching her arm several times, she very likely thought, “Jesus, what in the hell just happened?”

Twenty-four hours ago, Lloyd was a popular soccer player on the U.S. women’s national team. Now, Prince is tweeting about her.

https://twitter.com/Prince3EG/status/618059549908439040

https://twitter.com/Prince3EG/status/618060408268558336

At some point in the past 12 hours, as Lloyd sat, whether on a toilet*, a real throne, or in a shower, she must have come to the realization that her life would never be the same again, because what she just did in 16 minutes in Vancouver was extraordinary. Three goals in 16 minutes is drop-the-mic territory. Three goals in 16 minutes — all scored in the first 20 minutes of a World Cup final against the defending champion — is impossible. That never happens.

Carli Lloyd knows that, even though she said she dreamed of scoring four goals in a World Cup final. Yet, somehow, Carli Lloyd found another level to just say, “Fuck it, I’ll do it anyway.” And then she did it. Yesterday, Carli Lloyd put on one of the greatest individual sporting performances ever.

Not in women’s sport. In sport. Period.

It was only three goals, not four, but still.

Here’s another way to frame it: In the amount of time that I’ve been on the toilet writing this, Carli Lloyd scored three goals in a World Cup final. That’s madness. Everything about that sentence is madness, really.

To put Lloyd’s performance in perspective, people have broken out all kind of comparisons. But because nothing like this has ever happened before, it’s hard to properly frame Lloyd’s 16-minute hat trick.

Her first two goals were clinical, but the third goal — the ungodly strike from midfield — was the piece de resistance. It wasn’t lovely because it was a particularly fluid move. In fact, the setup was born out of a whole lot of terribleness.

Lloyd initially received the ball in her defensive third facing her goal. Her first touch was cringe-worthy. In layman’s terms, her first touch was NOPE, please try that again. She had plenty of time on the ball and turned right into a Japanese player. Because of Lloyd’s carelessness, Japan should’ve won the ball back immediately in the U.S. attacking third, but no one’s paying much attention to Lloyd’s horror touch because of Japan’s subsequent worse attempt at a 50-50 ball that was more like a 70-30 ball in favor of Japan. Suddenly, Lloyd was in acres of space, breaking toward the sunlight.

But she didn’t have attacking numbers. At that point, her several reasonable options included:

  1. Running at Japan’s back line and trying to beat a retreating Saki Kumagai
  2. Playing in a streaking Alex Morgan, on her left
  3. If Morgan can check her run and show for the ball, possibly playing a quick combination to suck in two defenders and hope Morgan’s return pass can get her in behind the Japanese defense
  4. Or carrying the ball into the space on the right and waiting for support to arrive

Instead, Lloyd went with Option 5: Hero ball. Noting Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori cheating off of her line, Lloyd drove through the ball, beating the flailing Kaihori, who seconds later laid sprawled on the fake Vancouver grass, defeated. It’s hard to even call out Kaihori for cheating by playing so far off her line because 1) she wasn’t so far off her line, and 2) the last time you saw a player at a World Cup credibly drive a ball from midfield with the intent of beating the goalkeeper was never. Or maybe I missed that game.

VANCOUVER, BC - JULY 05:  Goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori #18 of Japan reacts after she is unable to save a goal by Carli Lloyd #10 of the United States as Lloyd scores her third goal in the first half in the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 Final at BC Place Stadium on July 5, 2015 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)Getty Images

VANCOUVER, BC - JULY 05: Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori watches Carli Lloyd's shot go in. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)

Option 5, during a World Cup final, is the work of a player in a zone. That’s the guile of someone playing a blinder, already sitting on two goals, who has completely given herself over to instincts honed over decades.

“I feel like I blacked out in the first 30 minutes of the game,” Lloyd said in a post-match interview.

Of course she did. That’s something that probably crossed Lloyd’s mind during one of the moments she found herself alone after the victory.

What just happened?

But she’ll piece it together later. She’ll have to, because you don’t think yourself through that kind of performance. You don’t do the things that Carli Lloyd did if you’re thinking. You do it when your body and mind have been trained to do what’s required, and then instinct overrides your faculties, allowing you to overcome moments that, in theory, should be so overwhelming that you pair back on creativity and say several prayers to your maker, if you’re into that sort of thing and, frankly, probably even if you aren’t.

The thing is, World Cups aren’t for blackouts. World Cup finals are notorious for slow starts and methodical plotting. Teams don’t come out and risk everything because there’s way too much at stake and a limited amount of time to make amends for mistakes made. So the rhythm builds slowly. It’s chess. Pawns cautiously slide one space forward. Then maybe a knight or a bishop makes a move.

But no one told Carli Lloyd that. She was playing checkers and screaming “King me!” every couple of minutes while jaws dropped. What in the Lord’s name are you doing, Carli? She wrapped up her 16 minutes by essentially sinking a shot from half-court, because she had time, space, and why the fuck not?

King her, dammit.

She was mythical on the day. Perfect, really. Not in all of her touches, but in how she sprinted toward regular-seeming moments with purpose and turned them into decisive moments that mattered. She acted with the assuredness of someone who knows that fate’s never a factor when you’ve decided that there can only be one outcome. It sounds like a cliché but that’s exactly what happened.

I’ve heard people say her performance was Phelps-like.

BEIJING - AUGUST 17:  Michael Phelps of the United States smiles with the American flag as he wears his eighth gold medal after the Men's 4x100 Medley Relay at the National Aquatics Centre during Day 9 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 17, 2008 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)Getty Images

Michael Phelps can swim very fast. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

But even though Michael Phelps winning 8,000 Olympic swimming medals was a phenomenal feat by an out-of-this-world athlete, what Lloyd did was more about flawlessly executing moments before the competition has a chance to compete. Swimming is technical and filled with moments where errors cost an athlete dearly, but it doesn’t have a lot of latitude to exhibit individual moments of brilliance during a race.

If Phelps started a race by doing a cannonball and stunning his competitors into submission, then maybe we’re talking about the same thing.

Others have brought up Michael Jordan on his deathbed in the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. Beaten up and dehydrated from flu symptoms, Jordan dropped 38 points and ultimately collapsed at the end of Game 5, but not before the Jazz were put to bed.

But Carli Lloyd effectively put a World Cup champion to sleep in the first 20 minutes of a one-off final. Not a best-of-seven series that allows teams to regroup and re-work matchups, and not in a third or fourth quarter. Jordan’s performance was incredible and, physically, may be one of the greatest heroic feats in sports history. But the swiftness and ruthlessness in which Lloyd struck against Japan was surgical and immediate.

She warmed up, the whistle blew, and then she shut the whole damn thing down.

While the gender equality conversations taking place around the World Cup are much needed, a part of me desperately hopes that Carli Lloyd’s feats won’t simply be couched in gendered terms, because after what she just did, it’s asinine to assume that only girls will be inspired by the fury she unleashed in front of the largest U.S. TV audience to ever watch a soccer game. It was a performance that was bigger than an “American” performance. What Lloyd did was the kind of stuff kids around the globe dream about.

I’d love to be in the room the first time she really sits down and watches the first 20 minutes of that World Cup final. Because if she hasn’t already seen that, she will. She will keep a copy on her desktop for as long as computers are relevant. I want to see what someone watching one of her dreams unfold on TV looks like, especially when that dream is as crazy as scoring a World Cup final hat trick, because I bet you, even in her dreams, she didn’t score it in 16 minutes. You know what you’ve done is amazing when reality is crazier than the dream. And now that reality is part of sporting folklore.

Not women’s sporting folklore. Sporting folklore.

*A colleague of mine just told me that he doesn’t want to think about Lloyd on the toilet. My response: I think we need to think of our great athletes on the toilet more often. They’re just like us, except sometimes when they finish, they get up and score hat tricks at a World Cup final and we take naps or tweet about cats or tacos or mayonnaise. Perspective is important.

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