It has been a long road to the top for Carli Lloyd. She took to the stage at the Kongresshaus in Zurich to receive her FIFA Women's World Player of the Year award on Monday over seven years after her match-winning performance and goal in the 2008 Women's Olympic Football Tournament final in Beijing catapulted the midfielder into the women's football elite. Sandwiched in between was another gold medal-winning performance with her brace in the London 2012 final, as well as her famous hat-trick in the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015™ Final against Japan last summer. FIFA.com sat down for a chat with the new USA captain after she was crowned the new queen of football in Zurich.
FIFA.com: You were dubbed 'Captain America' in some quarters after that win against Japan. How do you like that nickname?
Carli Lloyd: I think originally our captain Christie Rampone had the nickname. I wasn’t actually officially named a captain during the World Cup and during that year I was the next person in line because Abby and Christie weren’t on the field every time. When they were on the field, they were the ones wearing the armband. I think what I remember most in that final game is handing the armband to Abby and then when Christie came on she handed the armband to Christie, too. It kind of went through all of us and now I've been named captain of the USA team alongside Becky Sauerbrunn. I never thought in a million years that I would be captaining the national team. It’s a huge honour, and a challenge that I’m looking forward to. I think 'Captain America' is a pretty cool nickname, I’ll definitely embrace it! I’m just looking forward to continuing to help the team and help inspire some of the younger players as well.
You won Olympic gold with USA and now the Women’s World Cup, what’s your next big aim?
The next big thing is Rio 2016, we have to qualify. It’s going to be another tough qualifying, we never want to look past our qualifying matches so we’re looking forward to that. We’re in a long training camp in Los Angeles getting ready. Hopefully, once we qualify it’ll be the same road we took towards the World Cup, we’ve got some quality matches set up for the year, some great opponents and we’ve just got to get after it. It’s not long until Rio.
A lot of people may expect you to win the title for the third time in a row. How do you handle that pressure?
I think we always have pressure, we had a great deal of pressure at the World Cup. I think we’ll have even more pressure once we qualify and go into Rio because no national team has won a World Cup and then gone on to win an Olympics, so it’s going to be a challenge. With Brazil hosting, they’ve put a lot of time and energy into their women’s national programme, they’re playing a lot of matches, they’ve been training a lot together, so it’s going to be really tough. We know that nothing worthwhile in life is ever easy and we’re just looking forward to the road.
After your final goals in 2008, 2012 and 2015, it looks like you are made to score in the big games, would you agree?
Yeah, I would say there’s a button inside of me that is pushed when there’s a lot on the line and there’s a pressure situation. When players are tired and it’s the sixth or seventh game in a tournament, I know that I still feel as fresh as I was in the first game. With each game in a tournament I feel better and better. I think it’s just the physical and mental preparation, all the obstacles that I’ve had to overcome. In 2008 it was my first big event where I was playing every match. In 2012 I was benched right before and didn’t know if I was going to get on the field, and in 2015 I got off to a little bit of a slow start, my confidence levels dropped. Who knows what Rio 2016 is going to look like, but I know that it’ll probably be something different. There will be another obstacle, but I know that I’ll be able to persevere through any situation that comes my way. I just want to help my team and the more success we have as a team, the more I want and we’re going to go after that gold.
A lot of very famous players wear No10, does this number have significance for you?
It does. I played with the No10 growing up in my club team when I was younger, in high school and college. When I first got onto the national team it was occupied by Aly Wagner so I had to wait a little bit until she retired and then I asked if I could wear the jersey. We’ve had Michelle Akers in the No10 as well as Aly, two incredible players and I’m honoured to be able to wear it. Everybody looks at the No10 as the playmaker. At the end of the day it is just a number but No10 is my favourite.
How is working with Jill Ellis?
Jill is great. She’s done a fantastic job managing this team and laying the ground work, figuring out how this team can be successful, how we need to play if there are any changes that need to happen. I think that for 2016, she has laid the framework, she’s brought in a lot of younger players, new faces, it’s a bit of a turnover period for us. I know she’s very passionate, she wants to qualify for and win the Olympics, just as we do. She’s been a fantastic leader and advocate for our sport and I’m honoured to be able to play for her.