We should have known it was going to be Carli Lloyd. Were we given a notepad and a full bottle, locked in a room, and asked to come up with the most likely hero for the gold medal match, we’d eventually stumble from a prison of crumpled paper and dehydration with the Jersey girl’s name in hand. Of course, Lloyd would be the person to step up in London.
Four years earlier, her extra time goal against Brazil won gold in Beijing. At the 2012 Summer Olympics, Lloyd temporarily lost her spot in Pia Sundhage’s starting XI only to return in time to be stepped on by Canada’s Melissa Tancredi in the semifinals. On a team looking to redeem itself after a loss in the previous year’s World Cup final, Lloyd’s own mini-comeback made her the U.S. Women’s National Team’s quintessential player ahead of a major final at one of the most famous venues on Earth.
On Aug. 9, 2012, Wembley Stadium presented Lloyd and the U.S. with their chance for revenge. Japan, the team that upset them at the World Cup, had also navigated the field, giving the Nadeshiko a chance to become the first team to pull off a World Cup-Olympic double. If the U.S. were going to be redeemed, they’d have to win a grudge match for the right to be called the best team in the world.
But in a game that would feature World Cup Golden Ball-winning Homare Sawa, the skill of Aya Miyama, the imposing play of Abby Wambach and the juggernaut that is Alex Morgan, Lloyd set in a stone her reputation for transcending expectations when results matter most. In the game’s ninth minute, Lloyd surged from midfield, though the Japanese area and onto a Morgan cross, bending at the waist as she ran onto another goal medal match goal. Just after halftime, the 30-year-old took matters onto her own feet, carrying a ball from near the center line to the edge of Japan’s area before burying an unstoppable shot into the left side netting. The U.S. would go onto win 2-1 in front of the largest crowd to ever witness a women’s Olympic event (80,203).
Come Aug. 10, there was little doubt who’d claimed the title of world’s best. The U.S. had finished 6-0-0 in a tournament where each of their main rivals had stumbled at least twice, their +10 goal difference six better than the competition’s next-best total. Along the way, they’d continued to show their flair for the dramatic (an improbable and lucky semifinal comeback against Canada) as well as their ability to meet the challenges of a changing international landscape (with wins over France and Japan).
And the team was also redeemed. Harshly judged by many as having blown their chance at a world title in Germany, the U.S. women claimed their third-straight Olympic gold. Perhaps as important, the team maintained their unique place as a crossover success, one of the few points on the U.S. soccer map that not only transcends into mainstream sport but also into mainstream culture.
And thanks to their success, a few more people will have jobs, a few more kids will have heroes, and anybody who followed U.S. soccer will have reason to remember 2012.