Why Soccer Star Carli Lloyd Felt Misunderstood During Her Career—and How She Made It Work for Her

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True to form, Carli Lloyd is powering forward.

"Retirement life is great," the two-time Olympic gold medalist, who closed the book on one of the most distinguished careers in U.S. soccer history last October, told E! News in an exclusive interview. "People have said it's a hard transition, but it hasn't been hard for me because I don't link my identity with being a soccer player. I had a life outside of that, and I fulfilled all my dreams, which I'm very grateful for.

"So I'm enjoying every moment I can. It was a long 17-year journey to rise to the top of the sport, and now I'm getting to enjoy this new second life."

Staying home for 10 months in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down international competition helped her envision what retirement might be like, Lloyd recalled, and it was "actually really nice" to hunker down with her husband, Brian Hollins, and regroup.

But she had a little more history to make before she hung up her boots for good.

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Lloyd scored twice in the United States' 4-3 victory in the bronze medal match at the "2020" Tokyo Olympics last summer, making her the only U.S. Women's National Team player with goals in four different Games. Her 10 goals in that span also made her the all-time USWNT scorer at the Olympics.

And then it was time to announce her imminent retirement. She kicked off her final batch of USWNT games with a five-goal performance against Paraguay in September, then said goodbye to the international stage on Oct. 26 after a 6-0 win over South Korea in a friendly. Lloyd's 134 career goals are the third-most in USWNT history, behind only Abby Wambach (184) and Mia Hamm (158), and her 11 goals in 2021 made her the top scorer of the year.

Sure-footedness aside, "My journey was hard until the end," Lloyd told E! over Zoom from her home in New Jersey, her 40th birthday on July 16 a few days away. "There were a lot of different obstacles throughout my way—injuries, people doubting me, media doubting me, coaches doubting me, coaches benching me."

Carli Lloyd, USA, Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Best Olympic Reactions, Candids
Fernando Vergara/AP/Shutterstock

But "towards the end of my career is where I really came to peace with everything," she said. "Even though I always felt as if I had to constantly prove people wrong, it was the most rewarding ending I could have asked for."

After being relegated to the bench by then-USWNT coach Jill Ellis, Lloyd maintained in 2018 that she deserved to be starting—that it would in fact be weird if she didn't feel that way—but ultimately said she was there to help her squad win however she could.

So, the two-time FIFA Player of the Year and national team co-captain from 2016 to 2018 did her best to respect a decision she did not agree with. And at the 2019 World Cup in France she became the first USWNT player to score in six consecutive Cup games. (Her fifth was her bonkers three-goal performance in the first 16 minutes of the championship match in 2015, the first-ever hat trick in a Women's World Cup final.)

Women's National Soccer Team at Parade of Champions 2019

But amid all the accolades, Lloyd's illustrious career has also been shadowed by the sort of she's-supremely-talented-but-difficult chatter that a lot of women whose goal is to crush it—at sports or otherwise—are familiar with.

"I've said from the start, my goal has been to help my team win championships, to do everything I possibly can, to be the best version of myself—and to also become the best soccer player in the world," Lloyd said. "I don't think people are used to a woman being that outspoken, that convicted, that confident—and be able to back it up."

Her myriad endorsements and the fact that she's a household name who ended her career still among the world's top-earning female athletes would indicate that Lloyd's swagger has not gone unappreciated. Yet at the same time, that steely, unflappable determination—the utter lack of doubt in herself, if you will—made her an easy mark for critics.

Carli Lloyd
Omar Vega/Getty Images

"Looking back at my career and being able to process everything, I think people have had the wrong impression of me," she said with a bit of a shrug and a smile. "And they just don't like confident people. But I'm never going to change. I'm always going to remain who I am."

But even though not every day was a ball, Lloyd acknowledged, the struggle suited her.

While being a fan of U.S. women's soccer for the past couple of decades has meant rarely being disappointed, so dominant has the team been with each subsequent generation producing a new set of stars, Lloyd remembers the veterans not exactly giving her a warm welcome when she first joined, making her USWNT debut in 2005.

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"I'm there to make my stamp and earn a starting spot, so I didn't care who was in my way to succeed at doing that," Lloyd recalled. "People were brutally honest with you on the field—but that also breeds a level of respect. It's sort of the old-school mentality. They're your teammates, they'll play hard for you, they'll do anything. But they also demand a lot, so I had to get used to that culture."

That bumpy landing, however, also provided a crash course in sucking it up and getting it done.

"It made me stronger in the end," Lloyd said. "It was hard and I sort of felt like this outsider, but it molded me into who I eventually became."

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She has an admitted fondness for that tough love approach, but, she added, "I don't think there's one right way of doing things."

Lloyd had also promised herself that, when she became a veteran, she wasn't going to make it quite so tough on the newbies, not least because "if you feel a little bit more welcomed, you're gonna play better."

Still, she noted, "The players coming in, I think they had it a little bit easier than some of us old guards."

Bigger changes are underway, though—and hopefully the new guard appreciates what their predecessors did to level the field.

Just this past February, a $24 million settlement was reached in a lawsuit filed back in 2016 by Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn and Hope Solo to address the years-old pay disparity between the U.S. men's and women's teams. The settlement earmarked $22 million for former players and promised future equal compensation, plus a 50-50 split of the World Cup purse, contingent upon the teams' agreeing to the terms in the next collective bargaining agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The new CBA was signed in May, the culmination of a "long, hard-fought journey," Lloyd said. "Nobody wants to be fighting with their employer. It makes for some uneasy feelings and emotions."

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While Rapinoe, Sauerbrunn and Morgan are still playing, "this is to benefit the future generations that are coming behind us," Lloyd reflected. "This happened to be our time and it's definitely a relief that things got settled, because I know it does take a mental toll," having to fight for better working conditions and more money while still being expected to win.

"I'm always still searching for better, for more—I think we're still not quite there yet," Lloyd added, noting that ensuring athletes are properly supported after their playing days are over is the next big goal on her mind. But with the equal-pay hurdle cleared, "the team can focus on playing and continue to push those barriers."

You might now think that Lloyd would want to take a break from sports for awhile after more than two decades of living and breathing competition.

But you would be wrong.

 International Teqball Federation
Fred Lee/Getty Images

While recovering from a knee arthroscopy in 2020, the first-ever surgery of her career, Lloyd started noticing the likes of David Beckham and Lionel Messi posting on social media about Teqball—which, like soccer, is a no-hands game where the ball gets passed back and forth over the net of a curved table.

Her interest piqued, Lloyd got a table sent to her home and it became her new favorite way to get some touches and otherwise ease back into activity while she rehabbed. "Whenever anyone comes over to my house it's always, 'What's that table?!'" she shared. "And they start playing and really love it."

Carli Lloyd

You may need to see it to understand, and as USA Teqball's first female ambassador, Lloyd's aim is to make sure you do.

"It's such a fun and addicting sport," she said. "And what's really great about it is that so many different people can play, it doesn't matter what level you're at. The competitor in me always needs something new and exciting, and this has been a great partnership."

Granted full membership in the Global Association of International Sports Federations in 2020, Teqball is making a push to be included at the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, though there's no need to wait that long: The USA Teqball Tour touches down in L.A. from Aug. 26-28, with $30,000 in prize money at stake.

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But while her competitive fire still burns—"It'll never leave me," Lloyd predicted—the last chapter of her career was really about learning to go with the flow.

"I think the biggest thing is learning to trust the process. So often we as humans get so wrapped up in wanting the result," the happy retiree explained. "Life is about trying to savor every moment, and not get so caught up on what's gonna happen in the future."

Carli Lloyd, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
Harold Cunningham - FIFA / FIFA via Getty Images

That new mantra extended off the field, as well, "being in the moment if I'm home, with my husband, if I'm on a vacation. Not trying to get 65 things crossed off my list in one day."

There were "certain times I didn't understand," Lloyd continued, "but in the end, it really was the most rewarding thing, knowing that I just simply worked as hard as I could and went through each day being the best that I possibly could be, and that's literally all you can ask for."