Six minutes into overtime in the 2008 Olympic gold medal game against Brazil, Lloyd took a pass from Lauren Cheney and with a flick sent the ball to U.S. forward Amy Rodriguez. She collected and then rolled the ball to the left, back to Lloyd, who had continued her run. Lloyd took one perfect touch to beat a defender before lashing a dipping 19-yard shot across the goal that sizzled under the goalkeeper, skidded off a mud patch inside the six yard box and stuck into the side-netting of the lower left corner.
It didn’t end the game, but it was truly a golden goal. The USA would hold the talented Brazilians at bay for the remaining 24 minutes to earn its spot atop the podium in Beijing.
Who knows what goes through an athlete’s mind during the moment that she’s on the brink of history?
For Lloyd, it was simple, an instinctive reaction born of hours and hours of training.
“I just thought, go,” said Lloyd, when the ball popped free from Rodriguez. “I knew there was an opportunity to do what I do best and that’s take a shot from outside the box.”
Lloyd has long been one of the USA’s best long-range shooters and has scored more than a few golazos during her national team career, but of course, none were bigger than that goal against Brazil, which earned her induction into an exclusive club of players who have scored a winning goal in a world final.
“It happened so fast that when I saw the ball hit the net I was sort of in shock,” said Lloyd. “I’ve watched the replay a hundred times and everything was perfect on the play. The ball was right in my path and that first touch cleared the defender. My plant foot, my right foot, was dead next to the ball. The way I struck it with my left was perfect and it just happened to get under the ‘keeper and go in.”
Lloyd also hit the right post in the dying seconds of the game, but she had done enough, scoring the game’s lone goal and working every last bit of energy out of her legs in helping keep the dangerous Brazilians off the scoreboard.
“It was definitely the finest moment of my career,” said Lloyd. “It was the biggest goal I had scored in my life, besides the other goal in the Olympics against Japan. It was a surreal moment. I have spent the majority of my career gutting through things and continuing to train hard all the time. I try to focus on improving day to day and not focusing on the final result, but when something like that happens, it’s just so satisfying knowing all my hard work and dedication has finally paid off. It was something very special that I will carry with me forever.”
When Lloyd returned home to Delran, N.J., outside of Philadelphia, she was a local hero. More than 100 people met her at the airport and her hometown put on a parade in her honor. She rode atop a fire truck down the main drag in Delran, spoke at her old high school and received congratulations from everyone from the guy at the deli to random folks on the street.
“The reception was fabulous,” said Lloyd. “It was nothing like I expected and it was really overwhelming. It really didn’t hit me hard until I got home. It was a lot of fun. The hardest part was smiling continuously for the two or three miles that I was on the fire truck.”
To Lloyd’s credit, instead of relaxing and enjoying the success, she set out to raise her level even more.
“I was definitely on a high for a bit, but I had to come back down to reality,” said Lloyd. “I was overwhelmed with the effect of the goal for a while but quickly realized I had to train much harder than before, in fact, twice as hard.”
And while the experience in Beijing was a life-changer, it also made her realize just how difficult it is to win a world championship.
“To win the ultimate medals and trophies at this level is the most difficult thing to do, but teams win games, not individuals,” said Lloyd. “We didn’t necessary outplay Brazil in that game, but collectively we couldn’t have been more on the same page. Hope (Solo) had an outstanding game, the defenders were awesome, as were the midfielders and forwards, and the subs coming off the bench. You want to look pretty, you want to look good, but at the end of the day, defense and playing as a team is what really matters.”