To fans on the outside looking in, Carli Lloyd is seen as an enigma wrapped in a mystery packaged in a deadpan shell. Equal parts lovable weirdo and 150% soccer focused machine, it’s been hard to pin down the person that exists between those bounds. Once described as the ‘weirdest world class professional athlete ever’, in When Nobody Was Watching - released Monday - Lloyd lays the sometimes painful, inspiring, and perpetually hard working framework for her weirdness manifested as greatness.
It’s a fairly fast read, clocking in at 228 pages from prologue to epilogue, and took less than five hours to complete. In that time Lloyd along with her co-writer Wayne Coffey weave together fascinating prose with a story to match. Though using a co-writer, Lloyd’s trademark wry deadpan shines throughout and at times it feels as though you’re reading directly from the journals she’s kept along the way.
Lloyd lays out the path of a fighter who’s always functioned better with a chip on her shoulder - real or manufactured. The very first line, “I don’t do fake”, serves as a thesis as much as an opener. Her roots in the small, blue collar town of Delran, New Jersey set the stage for a unique personality that is equal parts confident as it is extremely self-deprecating. Athletes are often hard on themselves but Lloyd take this to the next level.
Cut from the established regional powerhouses as a kid, Lloyd is invited to join the newly created Medford Strikers founded by local coach, the late Joe Dadura. This is the first instance of a familiar cycle for Lloyd: being good but not quite good enough for the establishment, placing chips of varying sizes on her shoulder, working outside the establishment to enter into it, but ultimately feeling like an outsider despite attained successes.
After being cut from the U-21 team, the working relationship between Lloyd and longtime trainer and mentor James Galanis, starts inauspiciously enough. Lloyd’s father got Galanis’ number on a rainy night in a parking lot and introduced the two of them. She auditions for Galanis and after taking her through a grueling session, Galanis assesses that she is not short on technical skill or tactical awareness but woefully short on fitness, mental toughness, and character.
The mentorship with Galanis becomes more important as Lloyd works her way back into the U-21 setup and eventually into her first national team camp. This is Galanis’ first phase to engineer Lloyd into the best player in the world. Growing up as a soccer fan in the US, Lloyd had a heroes image of the 99ers and admittedly had their autographs and posters on the wall in her childhood home. As they say, you should never meet your heroes.
First detailed in Hope Solo’s memoir, the “ponytail posse” was really much more of a clique and Lloyd expresses immediate frustration at the clique-based drama of the national team, from veterans who refuse to even speak to new players in camp to later refusing to pass to Lloyd when she was open in order to preserve the spots of their friends. It’s then Lloyd vows to never treat a rookie player who comes into the team like she was treated when she first arrived.
Naturally, Lloyd gravitates towards others who are on the fringe of the veteran clique like Marci Miller and Hope Solo. As the April Heinrichs tenure transitions to the Greg Ryan era, the culture of the national team becomes more toxic and unpredictable. Lloyd details Ryan’s demeanor which borders on emotionally abusive at times, one moment praising Lloyd and telling her she’s doing everything he wants her to do and the next moment tearing her down and telling her she’ll never get it. Lloyd expresses doubt that she never knows exactly where she stands with him and it’s a source of constant anxiety.
It’s her decision to stand by her friend, Hope Solo, in the wake of the 2007 controversy that acts as a catalyst for the destruction of her familial relationship. The family tension had been brewing for years, with her parents longing for influence and Lloyd yearning for independence. Lloyd’s parents believed that she wasn’t playing the political game of the national team by siding with Solo and that Galanis had led her down the wrong path by supporting her decision to be loyal. These frictions ignited and ultimately led to Lloyd being thrown out of her own home by her father. Through the years Lloyd has stilted but ultimately failed attempts to try and reconnect with her family.
Phase two of her journey begins with estrangement. It’s clearly a point of pain and as Lloyd meticulously details her rise to the top of the game, there’s always a sense that something is missing. There’s a sense that all of the success, all of the accolades are part of her soccer plan but even with eventual fiance Brian Hollins by her side, she misses sharing her successes with the people who were there for her first.
Character, the fifth pillar of Galanis’ system, is especially important to Lloyd. She believes in a typical blue collar conception of character; it’s what you do and how you treat the people around you that matters the most. There’s no room for artifice where Lloyd is concerned, she’s straight up no matter how it might come off. And loyalty, above all else; Lloyd shows true loyalty and respects those who do the same.
When Tom Sermanni is similarly pushed out by another leadership group of veterans, in a blunt moment Lloyd says to the team to “stop bitching when there are issues” and “to stop all the chatter because it’s destructive and it’s contagious.” Later she visits Tom in his hotel room to express her condolences at what has happened. Even still, she welcomes Jill Ellis with open arms and transfers that loyalty to a coach that has shown faith in her in the past.
By phase three, Lloyd has used every built up chip on her shoulder over the course of her life and uses that the fuel what eventually culminates in one of the best championship performances ever. Winning the 2015 FIFA World Player of the Year would be the crescendo for some players but not Lloyd. Instead it merely acts as the initiation of phase four, a reminder that being true to yourself and hard work achieves great things but that this is not her plateau.
This is not the tell all that Abby Wambach released earlier in September or Hope Solo’s memoir. There’s no deep dark history worthy of The Glass Castle. It is, however, still as deeply introspective, brutally honest even when it doesn’t make Lloyd look good, and above all, inspiring. It adds some depth to the concept of character and being a role model in a time where US Soccer is still trying to hammer home one vision of that concept.
Carli Lloyd is aloof, she’s caustic, she doesn’t always say the nicest thing in the nicest way, she’s blunt, sometimes she’s downright rude. But she’s honest, she stands by her friends even when it’s not the path of least resistance, and her work ethic is not of this world. Stories like these are crucial, like Hope Solo’s and Abby Wambach’s, for expanding the conception of what it means to be a role model.