Carli Lloyd is often overshadowed, but she shined bright against Norway

Carli Lloyd exists in the gaps of our discussion. She’s not Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, or Hope Solo, but she’s far more accomplished than most of her peers — the players whose names become completely foreign outside an Olympics or a World Cup. Be it because of bandwidth, neglect, or just an energy we put into superstars that sucks little light from the rest of the universe, Lloyd probably doesn’t get the attention she deserves. At least, not outside of core women’s soccer circles.

Within that sphere, Lloyd is known for performances like today’s. Having given up a goal late in the first half, the U.S. women returned from halftime against Norway facing a nightmare start to its Algarve Cup. At the same tournament it’s won nine times — one where last year’s seventh-place finish birthed a coaching change and a sea of doubts — the world’s second ranked team was 45 minutes away from disappointment. Another disappointment.

Forty-five minutes later, Lloyd, adorned with yet another black eye (a look that may become a trademark), had two goals — one a long range blast, the second a ball sent high into goal from the penalty spot — giving the United States its 2-1 win. Expectedly but still reassuringly, the U.S. passed its most difficult challenge of group play, with Lloyd putting in a characteristically clutch performance.

MORE: Is the U.S. still an elite team, and other questions ahead of the Algarve Cup

It’s a signature of Lloyd’s that was most evident in the U.S.’s last game that mattered, the 2012 Olympic final against Japan. Her two goals in the team’s revenge match against the 2011 World Cup winners guided the U.S. to a 2-1 win, earning the team a fourth gold medal in five tournaments. Her brace also evoked memories of the 2008 final, when her 96th minute goal gave the U.S. gold over Brazil.

Today’s match didn’t carry those stakes, but given the timing of the goals, it’s easy to romanticize their significance. Coming into the tournament, the U.S. had offered four recent, disillusioning performances: a demolition at the hands of Marta in Brazil (Dec. 14); a controlled 0-0 face-saving in the rematch (Dec. 21); a demoralizing loss against a far superior France (Feb. 8); and a unconvincing 1-0 win over England (Feb. 13). A 7-0 win against Argentina broke up the games against Brazil, but versus the type of competition the team must best at this summer’s World Cup, the U.S.’s notion of best was being redefined. Was the team even elite anymore?

Most of Wednesday’s answers were in the negative. Norway is a decent team, often a stubborn one because of the approach of coach Even Pellerud, but it’s also not supposed to be in the U.S.’s league. Yet for much of today’s match, it was, with only Lloyd’s performance allowing the U.S. to avoid what would have been a demoralizing result. Had the team lost today, last year’s negativity would have immediately resurfaced.

Yet for all the gloom around the U.S. right now, all the talk that the team may not be at Germany’s or France’s level, there is still an air of potential around the squad, one that Lloyd’s performance embodied. Going into the 2011 World Cup, there was a dour feel around the team, too, but against expectations — against form, match ups, tactics, momentum — the U.S. reached the final. There was something innate, inexplicable in the team that surface when it needed it most.

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Photo: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images.

Lloyd exemplifies that more than most. At club level, she’s a decent player — somebody who can be a focal point but has never made one team her own. Even on the national team, her value has been less about minute-to-minute control than opportunism. Perhaps she’s not the most influential player when the ball is in the middle or defensive thirds, but running into a play from midfield, reading seams that U.S. attackers force open in defenses, she’s peerless. Today’s goals were the 62nd and 63rd of her international career.

Coaches, teammates, and opponents have always praised Lloyd, but it’s often easier to dwell Alex Morgan’s threat, Lauren Holiday’s vision (to the extent we see it outside the NWSL), or Becky Sauerbrunn’s elite defending as crucial parts of the team. Even Abby Wambach’s presence takes up more of the conversation than Lloyd’s. But when the U.S. has needed big performances — somebody to carry the team beyond it’s frequent malaise — it’s usually Lloyd.

It happened in 2008, it happened in 2012, and, at a moment when the U.S. seems particularly fragile, it happened again. Based on her track record, there’s no reason to think it cant happen again in three months. If the U.S. can stay close, players like Lloyd give it a chance to beat anybody.

It may be a stretch to say Carli Lloyd gets overlooked, but she does rest in a strange, sometimes neglected gap. She probably isn’t appreciated as much as she deserves.

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