NEW YORK — Carli Lloyd was the guest of honor at Telemundo’s presentation of its women’s World Cup coverage plans Monday. The Delran native’s appearance came with an admission that she doesn’t speak much Spanish (she didn’t have to at this) and a disclaimer that hosts Ana Jurka and Andrés Cantor didn’t ask about the U.S. women’s soccer team’s lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. But there was plenty else to talk about.
Cantor did not shy away from asking Lloyd about her declining playing time with the national team as the World Cup approaches. Lloyd didn’t shy away from the questions.
“I know that I still have a lot left to give to this team,” she said. “I know physically I’m in the best shape that I’ve been in. … As I’ve seen throughout my career, you never know when that time may come. It’s important to be ready, and I know I’ll be ready, and I want to do anything I can to help the team win.”
Cantor also asked about the U.S. team’s struggles in its games so far this year. The Americans lost in France and tied England and Japan on home soil in the SheBelieves Cup. Now, there are just five games left before the World Cup, and just one is against a top-level opponent: Australia in suburban Denver on April 4.
“I think that there’s some lessons that we can extract from the games that we played,” Lloyd said. “You obviously want to have some of these things come out now vs. in the summer. It’s all about continuing to build, continuing to get better.”
Lloyd emphasized keeping up the psychological advantage that the U.S. team has long had over the rest of the world. As other teams have gotten more skilled, they’ve been able to get better results against the Americans, and in doing so chip away at the mental side of the game, too.
“I think the biggest thing for us is making sure that we still have that American mentality edge,” Lloyd said. “That is what has intimidated teams all of these years, and we must have that, because I think sometimes teams get out onto the field and are maybe not as intimidated by us. I think that’s going to be an important factor going into this summer.”
Lloyd’s critics would counter that the Americans’ skill ought to matter as much, if not more — and they’d also note that Lloyd has been benched because of others’ talents. But the team’s 28-game unbeaten streak from late-July 2017 through all of 2018 made an impact. When the Americans beat Brazil and Japan and tied Australia in last summer’s Tournament of Nations, it looked like they had their classic swagger back for the first time in a while.
In the wake of shaky performances at the SheBelieves Cup, doubts are rising again about whether the U.S. can repeat as World Cup champion. Lloyd is not as concerned as others are.
“Everyone looks to our 2018 year, being undefeated, and this. … It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in 2017 and 2018. What matters is when you actually land in France, and you play games one through seven if you’re lucky enough to get there,” she said. “And may the best team in that particular time frame win."
Lloyd might not deliver the answer on the field, but it won’t surprise anyone if she’s a key figure in the locker room.
“In a squad, you need many different forms of players — you need some young, with hunger; you need some veteran players; you need some skillful players; you need some enforcers,” she said. “I know that some of the veteran players, myself included, we’re going to have to be strong and lead the group.”
Lloyd also mentioned that she’ll play three games for Sky Blue FC before reporting to the national team’s pre-World Cup training camp. Those games will be the season opener April 13 at the Washington Spirit, then home contests April 20 vs. the Houston Dash and April 28 vs. the Portland Thorns.
Expect a big crowd for the Portland game, and not just because it will be Lloyd’s sendoff. The Thorns feature New Jersey native Tobin Heath and fellow U.S. star Lindsey Horan.