EDMONTON, Alberta – “She is my idol!!!”
That’s how the email, composed last month, reads from Colombia midfielder Yoreli Rincon about United States midfielder Carli Lloyd.
On Monday, the 21-year-old Rincon will go toe-to-toe with her idol in the biggest game of her life: Colombia plays its first-ever Women’s World Cup knockout-stage game in the Round of 16.
Rincon tried out for the NWSL’s Western New York Flash last year, but was cut due in part to the limited international roster spots made available to each team. But she made an impression on Lloyd, who was playing for the Flash at the time, and the U.S. midfielder connected Rincon with her trainer James Galanis, who changed everything for the young Colombian.
“I was introduced to James through Carli and he transformed my entire game,” Rincon said. “He evaluated me and designed a program specific for me. My game has gone to levels I never thought imaginable.”
Rincon has at times in the past been referred to as the next Marta, the Brazilian legend who is a five-time FIFA World Player of the Year. Rincon is already playing in her second World Cup and has an Olympics under her belt (albeit limited minutes after a falling out with the old coach). Her objective is to be one of the best midfielders in the world, Galanis says, but just like Lloyd at one point and time, Rincon didn’t have the mental toughness or the fitness level to reach the next level.
So with a connecting phone call from Lloyd, Rincon got in touch with Galanis and headed to New Jersey, living there for three months and training often twice daily from April through August 2014.
“It just comes down to education,” Galanis says. “They just don’t know what to eat and how to train things.”
Galanis notes Rincon’s tactical awareness as the midfielder’s best attribute. Lloyd credits Rincon for having great ability in tight spaces and world-class final through-balls.
Rincon speaks with Galanis daily and she also regularly texts with Lloyd, who is something of a big sister to her. Both players wear the heralded No. 10 shirt as team playmaker.
“I’ve been texting with her and I’ve been watching her play,” Lloyd said last week. “I’ve been watching her and seeing how she’s doing and everything. It’s been cool. It’s been great to see her.”
Lloyd is open about her process of locking in mentally for tournaments, saying before the World Cup that she isn’t getting caught up with visiting family or friends while at the World Cup. But Lloyd said she would wish good luck to her friend before the match.
“We’re all humans at the end of the day,” Lloyd said. “Once we get onto the field and step in between those lines, it doesn’t matter if she’s my friend or not, I’m going to play as hard as I can.”
Monday’s match should feature some extra bite. Rincon spoke on Sunday about the United States’ alleged disrespect for Colombia. U.S. players are unsure what Colombian players are referring to, but it’s clear that Colombia is motivated to pull off an upset even larger than its group-stage victory over world No. 3 France.
Despite all the pre-game chatter, there is still plenty of respect between Lloyd and Rincon.
“For me Carli is one of the best midfielders [in] the world, and playing against her in the next match is exciting,” Rincon said.