So against Japan, in front of a packed house at historic Wembley Stadium, a player who might have been discarded two weeks ago found the way. Carli Lloyd headed home one goal in the first half, then booted home another in the second, the tallies that beat Japan, 2-1, for the Americans’ fourth gold medal in five Olympic tournaments.
That it was Lloyd who became a star in front of 80,203 fans — more than have ever seen a women’s soccer game in England — fit the American team like a Speedo. When the United States opened this tournament July 25, Lloyd was on the bench. At 30, a veteran of two Olympics and two Women’s World Cups, this was not a position to which she was accustomed, nor one she embraced.
“If somebody tells me I’m not good enough to start,” Lloyd said Thursday, “I’m going to prove them wrong.”
When veteran midfielder Shannon Boxx strained a hamstring in the opener against France, Lloyd was on. From there, she was a force. “I probably was the most consistent player all tournament,” she said. Only Wambach scored more than Lloyd’s four goals in the tournament, an indication that contributions can, and do, come from any source with this group.
“We felt like a team,” Solo said. “Carli gets benched, she comes back, and she has the game of her life. Everybody felt like they could contribute. Everybody. . . . Honestly, it’s the first time in my athletic career that I felt like it was a true team.”
It had to be against Japan, the relentless, possession-oriented unit that beat the United States a year ago in the final of the Women’s World Cup. When Morgan beat a defender deep on the left side, and got her foot on a cross that looked sure to be headed to Wambach – until Lloyd came zipping through to put her head on it – the Americans were up 1-0. Not eight minutes had run off the clock.
But the United States felt as if it were back-pedaling much of the remainder of the first half, so persistent were the Japanese. In stepped Solo, the goalkeeper who has that I’ll-be-in-the-center-of-it-all aura. In the semifinals, Solo and the U.S. defense allowed three goals to Canada, more than they had allowed in four years.
“She definitely took that personally,” Wambach said. “She wanted to make a difference.”
In the 17th minute, she made what amounted to a point-blank save on Nahomi Kawasumi, and the Americans cleared the ball after it pinballed off defender Christie Rampone. In the 18th minute, she leapt to get her left hand on Yuki Ogimi’s rope of a shot, deflecting it off the crossbar.