Carli Lloyd getting hot as World Cup nears

LOS ANGELES — Carli Lloyd realizes millions of casual soccer fans don’t follow the international game outside the World Cup. Some American fans haven’t paid close attention to the U.S. women’s national team since Lloyd got her hat trick to help the U.S. win the title four years ago in Vancouver, British Columbia.

When those same fans tune in for the World Cup in France this summer, many would be shocked to find out Lloyd is now a reserve for the team she propelled to the title in 2015.

Still, Lloyd — now 36 — isn’t settling for the role to which she has been largely relegated over the past two years. Her latest performance suggested that maybe coach Jill Ellis shouldn’t settle for it, either.

“I want to win,” Lloyd said. “I’m a winner. People can say what they want, but I know at the end of the day I can help this team lift that trophy in France, and I’m not going to stop until I can do that.”

Lloyd seized the spotlight at Banc of California Stadium on Sunday night, evoking memories of her greatest performances and decisively showing she still can deliver in the United States’ No. 10 jersey, typically reserved for every team’s top playmaker.

In her first start of 2019, Lloyd had the role largely of a No. 9 forward against Belgium. And did she ever play it: Lloyd scored two goals in the opening minutes and added a second-half assist in a 6-0 rout.

“Tonight I got my chance, and I’m thankful for that chance, but nothing has changed,” Lloyd said. “I’m doing the same thing I’ve been doing from Day 1 for my career. I’m working hard. I’m humble enough to know that there’s things I can improve on, and I’m not stopping. … Those that want to doubt can doubt.”

Lloyd famously scored her World Cup hat trick in 16 minutes, and she needed about five minutes to score her brace against Belgium. Lloyd got both goals through the air, outmaneuvering defenders and knocking home both headers with aplomb.

With hundreds of fans wearing Lloyd’s jersey in the boisterous crowd of 20,941, their hero partly stole the show from the 1999 World Cup championship team, which was honored on the field at halftime.

Greg Beacham is an Associated Press sportswriter.

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