Carli Lloyd has said all along she was good enough to start, and that the only thing preventing her from yet more World Cup heroics was coach Jill Ellis.
When Ellis gave the Rutgers alum her lineup shot on Sunday in Paris, Lloyd proved the point. The 36-year-old veteran scored two goals in the first half, while the U.S. women continued their tear through the soft underbelly of Group F, outclassing Chile, 3-0, as most starters took a relaxing day off.
Before a flock of their own supporters at Parc des Princes, the Americans managed to win easily and with a bit more restraint than during their over-the-top 13-0 blowout over Thailand. The U.S. clinched advancement to the knockout round of 16 and now requires only a draw against Sweden on Thursday in Le Havre to win Group F – which would put the Americans on a premature collision course with co-favorite France in a quarterfinal.
On Friday, Lloyd told reporters she was not entirely satisfied being a quiet, supportive reserve.
“There’s nothing there that’s holding me back except for the coach’s decision,” Lloyd said.
Given the opportunity on Sunday, Lloyd produced her ninth and 10th career goals in three World Cups, setting an all-time record with goals in six straight World Cup games.
“Yeah, what’s what everybody’s been saying,” Lloyd said after the match, about her new record. “Whatever. I just want to win.”
Despite her two-goal performance, Lloyd did not receive FIFA’s Player of the Match award. That went to remarkable Chilean and Paris SG goalkeeper Christiane Endler, who was playing in her home stadium and made magnificent diving and leaping saves on Christen Press and others in the second half.
The Americans, perhaps aware of their problematic image overseas, did not complain about that award. Lloyd called some of Endler’s saves “incredible.” Ellis termed them “worldlie.”
“She got player of the match in a game, they lost 3-0, and I’m good with that,” Ellis said.
Ever aware of the controversy that arose from goal celebrations against Thailand, Lloyd hugged teammates quietly after her scores and then ironically gave a quaint, diplomatic “golf clap” for the cameras.
Lloyd scored in the 11th minute on a pretty half-volley from 16 yards off a failed Chilean clearance. A brilliant, back-angled head goal by Julie Ertz doubled the lead. (“That was sick,” Mia Hamm tweeted, about Ertz’s score). Lloyd added her second goal in the 35th minute with a flying header of her own in the box, before she was moved back to a more midfield role in the second half.
Lloyd’s only flaw was missing low and left on a meaningless and unearned penalty kick late in the match that could have given her a hat trick.
Ellis benched seven starters from the team’s 13-0 rout over Thailand, starting a patch-quilt lineup that featured a disparate group including Lloyd and left back Tierna Davidson, 20, who had a couple of assists.
“If we can get players minutes and butterflies are out of the way, it helps us down the line,” Ellis said.
Lloyd had made a point of saying she was not about to mess up the team’s chemistry over her status, even if she was not pleased with the situation.
“I haven’t sat here and pouted around and been a horrible teammate,” she said. “I’ve showed up every single day at training and been the hardest working player I could possibly be and been respectful of that decision. When my chances have come, I’ve tried to seize those and take those opportunities.”
Benching stars Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe was a bit of a risk for the coach, since this match was arguably the most pivotal of the three first-round contests. The Americans were always going to defeat Thailand, regardless of their lineup. The third match against Sweden won’t really matter, now that the U.S. has won its first two games. So this game was the key, albeit not a true challenge. Chile hadn’t won any of its previous 10 games, and was ranked 39th in the world. Also, if the match proved close down the stretch, Ellis could always bring back some starters.
As it turned out, the Americans’ “B Team” fared just fine and now both Morgan and Rapinoe are well rested. Perhaps the only position where the Americans were outplayed was in goal, where Alyssa Naeher appeared tentative during one scary moment in the first half.
Chile actually came close to tying the score in the 22nd minute, off a set piece and a disconcerting misplay by Naeher. An offsides flag nullified the potential goal, and Chile managed only one official shot at goal, compared to 26 for the Americans.
This was the sixth consecutive shutout for the U.S., as the team leading into a stretch against worthier opponents. The Americans, with a 16-goal differential, have become the New England Patriots of this World Cup, adored by their own fans but despised by most others for their successes and perceived arrogance.
As this tournament moves along into the critical phase, Ellis will face some fresh pressure to find a starting spot for Lloyd.
“Warmup’s over,” declared Fox commentator Alexi Lalas, after the victory. “The tournament starts now for the U.S.”