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Carli Lloyd: On a Mission

As the U.S. Women’s National Team heads into its first domestic game of 2007 against Mexico on April 14 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., midfielder Carli Lloyd takes a look back at her superb performance at the Algarve Cup last March, an indication that there are more great things to come from the attacking midfielder.

There are break through performances and there are BREAK OUT performances. Put Carli Lloyd’s four-game run at the 2007 Algarve Cup last March in the latter category.

Coming into the annual tournament in Portugal, the 5-foot-8 midfielder had scored just once in her first 23 appearances, and that was the eighth goal in a 10-0 shellacking of Chinese Taipei.

Long known as a player brimming with talent, the 24-year-old had put in four solid years for the U.S. U-21s, and in 2006, finally found the fitness and confidence to stick with the full team. With the unique ability to put players behind her on the dribble and a world class aptitude to strike thunderous shots from distance with either foot, pundits assumed the goals would come fast and furious once she started getting serious minutes.

She started to get the minutes, produced the dynamic dribbles, and the rocket shots soon followed, but none went in. She hit posts, crossbars, defenders and perhaps a few birds circling the field, but could not find the net. She even broke her wrist in her second game after losing her balance trying to strike a ball with all her might against Mexico.

The goal drought actually led to what was perhaps her first major achievement with the WNT, especially for a young player. Lloyd kept a positive attitude while not letting the lack of scoring get her down.

“I wasn’t really frustrated,” she said of her first year with the full team. “I stayed positive and knew that the time would come when I would get a few in. I really didn’t think about it, I just mainly focused on playing well and working hard and helping the team. I was just trying to take everything in and adapt and learn the defending and attacking role that (U.S. head coach) Greg (Ryan) wanted me to play. That was my primary focus and that helped me get over those bumps pretty well.”

While the fields in the Algarve are known to be a bit bumpy at times, they played as smooth as a pool table for Lloyd, who reeled off goals in consecutive games against China, Finland, Sweden and Demark, two of them game-winners. She was named Tournament MVP and garnered Top Scorer honors as well.

One of the best things about her quartet of goals was that they call came through different avenues. Her goal against China was a jack into the upper left corner with her left foot from just outside the penalty box. The goal against Finland was a follow up off a rebound that she struck first-time on the ground with her right foot through traffic from 15 yards out. Against Sweden, she made a darting run across the top of the six-yard box to drill her spinning shot first-time into the left corner with her left foot. Against Denmark, she cracked a thunderbolt from 24 yards off the underside of the crossbar and down over the goal line. She hit her left-footed shot so hard, that it bounced back up and hit the roof of the net.

Did we mention that she’s right footed?

For Lloyd, the success at the Algarve Cup was a matter of relaxing instead of pressing.

“I went into China (and the Four Nations Tournament the previous January) with the mindset of scoring, but I realized that it was something you can’t force,” said Lloyd, who had smacked a shot off the crossbar against Germany in the 2006 Algarve Cup Final. “You just have to think simple while on the field and things just kind of happen. My approach to this Algarve Cup was more of free player and as it turns out, I put four goals away.”

She learned something valuable from that mindset.

“It tells me that you can’t over-think when you’re going into these games,” said Lloyd, who played her college ball at Rutgers. “All the players are great at this level. If I work hard, things will emerge from my game to help this team and while I know some days the balls hit the posts, I can always control how hard I work.”

Lloyd credits Ryan with being patient with her and helping the young midfielder grow. She says that while he made clear his expectations for her and the other midfielders, Ryan gave her time to find her rhythm.

“We sorted some things out in China in January and that tournament was really beneficial for both of us,” said Lloyd. “He’s given me the chance as a young player to step into this team and start some games. The less pressure I have, the better I play, and he’s done a really good job of working with me, but I’ve also done a good job of not putting too much pressure on myself or getting down on myself when things weren’t going exactly how I wanted.”

Lloyd has dedicated herself to the physical part of the game over the past two years at a higher level than she ever has, working with a personal trainer to improve all parts of her game, including her defense which was once a foreign concept but is now one of her strengths. While being fitter and stronger has certainly bolstered her confidence, in the end, the mental part of the game was up to her.

“Early on I was trying to prove myself and make things happen individually, but as I’ve become more comfortable and my relationships with the coaches and players have grown, I’ve tried to simplify my game,” she said. “When I get the ball, whatever is on, that’s where I play the ball. If a dribble is on, I can do that, but I like to mix it up. Short passes, long passes, play into targets, shoot, or whatever, and always tackle hard to get the ball back. I feel I am becoming more of a well-rounded player.”

Lloyd is sure to play a key role for the USA in the domestic matches leading up to the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, starting with Mexico (tickets) on April 14 at Foxborough, Mass. Her short-term goal is obviously to make the Women’s World Cup Team and contribute in China. If her play at the Algarve Cup, also known as the “Mundialto” or “little World Cup,” is any indication, she could be one of the USA’s new stars on the world stage.