When Carli Lloyd was in college, she was supremely talented, exceptionally athletic and, her coach remembers, super lazy.
“Everything she did as a youth player came pretty easily to her,” said Glenn Crooks, who coached Lloyd at Rutgers. “The fitness aspect of it is something she lacked. It was a challenge to get her to work as hard on the defensive side of the ball.”
Then Lloyd found James Galanis, who broke her down, then built her back up again. Galanis didn’t just work on her body, he worked on her mind. And that may have been the most important step in Lloyd’s transition from undisciplined college athlete to one of the most clutch players in women’s soccer.
“I would spend time after sessions to take Carli into the mind of the some of the greatest athletes that ever lived — Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky, Diego Maradona,” Galanis said. “I would make the connection that these athletes loved pressure and thrived in it. When pressure surfaced, their game went to the next level and [they] kept breaking barriers until they won.”
Lloyd obviously got the message, because in the pressure cooker of the Women’s World Cup she has thrived, scoring in a record six straight games dating to the 2015 tournament. She’s had nine goals in that span, including three in the first 16 minutes of the 2015 final.
“Mentally I’m stronger than ever,” she said Sunday after her two first-half goals carried the U.S. to a 3-0 win over Chile and a spot in the round of 16 for an eighth consecutive Women’s World Cup. The Americans finish group play Thursday against Sweden in Le Havre.
“I’m focused. I know what I need to do. I know that my ability is there. I know that this is the best version of me,” Lloyd continued. “And I’ve just got to go out there and prove it.”
Proving it has long been the motivation.
“Carli has always had doubters that have fueled her fire,” said Galanis, 48, who draws Lloyd’s name out as CAAH-lee in a thick Australian accent undiluted by two decades living in South Jersey.
He frequently addresses her as “Miss Lloyd” instead.
A former first-division soccer player in Australia, Galanis pays his bills by running a youth academy. He has worked with other top-level athletes, among them national team players Julie Ertz and Heather Mitts, former MLS player Ryan Finley and Colombia’s Yoreli Rincon.
He says he’s never taken a cent from Lloyd despite helping her earn hundreds of thousands of dollars and two world player of the year awards in the 16 years they’ve worked together.
Lloyd said she was about to quit soccer after getting cut from an age-group national team when she met Galanis.
“He motivated her maybe like other coaches hadn’t before,” Crooks said. “She believed in him.”
Galanis’ unconventional methods aren’t for everyone, but Lloyd was immediately taken by his no-nonsense manner. He could help her, he said, but she had to do things his way without questioning why.
His way included 1,000 sit-ups and 500 pushups a day. Running drills, agility drills and mind-numbing sessions kicking a ball against the wall of a basketball gym. All of it with only Galanis for company.
But the physical part was only half the training.
“It was evident back then that Carli had taken a special interest in the mental part of the game,” Galanis said. “After each game we dissected her mentality and waited for pressure moments to arise in future games. As each pressure moment surfaced, Carli started to elevate her game until it became an instinct.”
Lloyd started the 2012 Olympic tournament on the bench but scored both U.S. goals in the gold medal game, becoming the only player in history to score the winning goal in two Olympic finals. She also scuffled, nearly invisible, through group play at the last Women’s World Cup but scored the winning goals in the last three elimination games, giving the U.S. a record third world championship.
“She’s done it on the big stage in ’08 and ’12 and in ’15,” Crooks said. “She produces in moments.”
For this tournament, she says she’s fitter, more technical and more tactical than ever.
More mentally prepared, too, according to her coach.
“Now when she senses pressure she turns into a different person on the field, with extra gears and extra fight,” Galanis said. “She can’t help herself. And when you add that people doubt her into the equation, it gives her more fuel that makes her unstoppable.”
Going into the World Cup, Lloyd put her coach, Jill Ellis, in the doubters category. At 36, Lloyd would be a bench player in this tournament, Ellis said, and Lloyd started just once in nine games leading into the tournament.
In France, Lloyd already has one start, two goals and one apparent convert.