USWNT's Carli Lloyd lights up scoreboard with five goals in first farewell match

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

There might have been a moment during the first five-goal game of Carli Lloyd’s otherworldly career when the U.S. women’s national team icon started to rethink her plans to retire at the end of 2021.

"Maybe for a split second," Lloyd told FOX Sports following the USWNT’s 9-0 drubbing of overmatched Paraguay in a friendly Thursday night in Cleveland, the Americans' first match since winning the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. "But then I go back to reality."

The reality is the 39-year-old Lloyd is ready to walk away. She now has just three games left with the national team, beginning with Tuesday’s contest, also against the Paraguayans, in Cincinnati (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1 and the FOX Sports App).

She’ll then play a few more times for Gotham FC in her native New Jersey as the club closes out the NWSL season. Then that’s it. There won’t be a comeback. She’s not changing her mind. 

"I think you just get to a point where you get tired of being away from home," she said. "I just want to live life."

That doesn’t mean Lloyd can’t still perform at the highest level. She proved it again Thursday. 

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"I'm pretty sure if Carli decides to play for two more years, she could easily do that," U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said.

Sure, the USWNT was up against as hapless a foe at First Energy Stadium as they’ve faced since trouncing Thailand 13-0 to open the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Paraguay’s women have never qualified for a major tournament. Before Thursday, they hadn’t even convened since April (a 7-0 loss to Japan). They last took the field in 2019 before that.

But you can only play the opponent in front of you. And Lloyd was as ruthless Thursday as ever; her five goals — which tied a U.S. record held by eight other players — came on just 62 touches.

"I think the older you get, the smarter you get," Lloyd quipped on ESPN’s broadcast.

"It’s amazing — five goals. She’s an absolute legend," Andonovski said. "Just being on the field, she’s a threat no matter who we play."

He’s right. Despite being the oldest Olympian in USWNT history, Lloyd was among the best U.S. players in Tokyo. She nearly rescued the Americans late in the upset loss to Canada in the semifinals (her header hit the crossbar), and she scored twice (including the eventual game-winner) in the 4-3 victory over Australia in the third-place match.

Lloyd’s big night in Cleveland gave her 133 strikes in 312 international appearances, vaulting her past Kristine Lilly and into third place on the all-time U.S. scoring chart, behind only Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm. Lloyd could probably top Hamm’s 158 if she played into her 40s. Deployed mostly as a substitute under then-coach Jill Ellis in 2019, Lloyd still scored 16 times.

But she says her mind is made up. "I’m emotionally tired," Lloyd said. "For 16 years I’ve just been this ice-cold player. I haven’t allowed myself to get tired or even think about what I’ve done in my career. I just never imagined all of this.

"Having this farewell [tour] is an unbelievable moment, but it’s also something that is emotional," she added.

Those feels will gain intensity as the end draws nearer. After next week’s Paraguay rematch, the U.S. closes its 2021 slate with a pair of exhibitions against South Korea. Lloyd’s swan song is set for Oct. 26 in Saint Paul, Minnesota (8 p.m. ET, FS1 and the FOX Sports App).  

"We’ll definitely miss her, but I’m glad she’s going out on a high," said midfielder Andi Sullivan, who scored her first two USWNT goals Thursday. "Carli’s mentality is next-level, and it’s a huge fabric of the team. I think that’s what I’ve taken from her.

"If she’s going to retire, we need to be absorbing all her wisdom and all her experiences," Sullivan continued. "Over the years, she and I have talked a lot — whether that’s long conversations or short things here and there — and she’s always willing to share her perspective and that’s invaluable."

As for Lloyd, she’s just trying to enjoy her final few games in a way she hasn’t been able to before.

"In order to be at this level for so long, you can’t dwell. You have to grind," said Lloyd, who was once cut from the U.S. under-21 team.

She’ll retire as one of the best ever.

"I wish I could do it forever, but all good things eventually come to an end," she said. "I’m just going to let the emotions flow. I have blocked out everything in my career. It’s that tunnel vision, that laser-focus. Tonight, I just savored everything.

"There’s nothing greater than just being able to play so freely," she added. "I’m just playing. I have nothing left to prove."

One of the most prominent soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams in more than a dozen countries, including multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports, the New York City native was a staff writer for Yahoo Sports and ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.