USWNT star Carli Lloyd is up for the challenge of a move to Europe
HARRISON, N.J. -- When the trill of the whistle brings Tuesday's game between the United States and France to an end in the nation's capital, and with it the end of the SheBelieves Cup, U.S. captain Carli Lloyd will embark on one of the more daunting challenges of her adult life.
Even for someone from New Jersey, known for producing some of the most aggressive practitioners of this particular skill, a move to Manchester, England, will test the very limits of the abilities she honed over the past two decades. We speak, of course, about driving on the left side of the road.
"I can drive stick," Lloyd said. "But I'm not sure my left hand is very good at that."
As the newest member of Manchester City Women FC, which like the men's team benefits from a sponsorship arrangement with a Japanese automaker, she will soon have access to a car. And with it the means to navigate the roads of one of the United Kingdom's densest metro areas.
"I think that will probably be the biggest challenge for me," Lloyd joked. "I think on the field will be all right, but driving will definitely be hard."
Challenge is what she does. It is why she is heading across the Atlantic Ocean in the first place. It is why during what was ostensibly an offseason vacation to England, she made her way to London's Green Park each morning to run drills with longtime trainer James Galanis. Not as much vacation as a chance to work out in a new time zone.
They have a term for that across the pond: A busman's holiday.
Lloyd can't resist a chance to prove people wrong. Long overlooked, Manchester City may wear sky blue, but it isn't a blue blood in the women's game. A Rutgers alum who scored a lot of goals before the world took notice of her hat trick in the 2015 World Cup final, Lloyd knows the feeling.
She will arrive just in time to work into the lineup in advance of the two legs of Manchester City's Champions League quarterfinal against Danish side Fortuna Hjørring later this month.
"No [other] English team is left in the Champions League," Lloyd said of the European women's club competition. "No English team has ever won it. So it's a big mission. I like when I'm a bit of the underdog."
Only Lloyd could carve out for herself the underdog role while playing for the United States and Manchester City, one the gold standard of women's soccer and the other a club with money to burn. But it is that mindset that has taken her to Manchester City.
Left unsaid in her rationale is that no American has ever been the catalyst for such a European power shift, either. Not Mia Hamm, not Abby Wambach. Not Alex Morgan, who is also headed to Europe and the Champions League with three-time champion Lyon in France. Nor any male player, for that matter. The two-time reigning FIFA player of the year, Lloyd is the highest-profile American woman to sign with an English club, even as she joins U.S. teammate Crystal Dunn (Chelsea) and former teammate Heather O'Reilly (Arsenal) in the Women's Super League.
Put it this way: There are precious few ways for an American woman in this day and age to accomplish something on the soccer field that none of her predecessors ever did.
In attempting to conquer Europe, Lloyd might have found the last one, which is not to say she is abandoning her empire stateside. Like all the Americans in England, the timing of this particular year was ideal. As it shifts away from a summer schedule, the WSL will play a shortened spring mini-season. And with the next World Cup still a long way off, not to mention the lack of a collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer, American players have more flexibility in their planning. Lloyd's short-term contract with Manchester City, for instance, will have her back in the United States for NWSL play with the Houston Dash by early June.
"It's important for me to play in the NWSL, to be an advocate for the league, to support the league, to support Houston," Lloyd said. "It was a win-win. I get the best of both worlds. I get to go over there for a few months and experience something different. I get to compete in different tournaments, and then I'm able to come back home and compete in the NWSL."
It was a win-win. I get the best of both worlds. I get to go over there for a few months and experience something different. I get to compete in different tournaments, and then I'm able to come back home and compete in the NWSL.Carli Lloyd
As the American league enters a domestically unprecedented fifth season, it has a sense of stability, even as it begins a search for a new commissioner and adjusts to its first franchise relocation. It isn't just hanging on. Still, the European moves of major stars, even given the particular circumstances of the calendar, is sure to trigger well-earned insecurities.
"I hope that the NWSL can get there," Lloyd said of the professional environment at Manchester City. "I hope that the standards can improve, because they need to improve. I think that just being able to be a part of something different is really ultimately helping the game globally."
Asked what she would do if Manchester City turns out to be the best soccer experience of her life, Lloyd said that there are "endless possibilities" for what remains of her career. But there is also no doubt that the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympics are the objectives underpinning all else. Those would be more difficult to chase from a European base. Not to mention a new marriage and other of those endless possibilities that point back home.
"I know that they have had talks about having a women's team in New York," Lloyd said of the ownership group that controls both Manchester City and New York City FC in MLS. "New York and New Jersey are pretty close. Hopefully that would happen. That would be great to see, and maybe I could be a part of that down the road."
But for now the road leads to Manchester.
It was on that same recent quasi-vacation to England, though not part of its original purpose, that she first visited Manchester City after the club reached out to her representatives. She met manager Nick Cushing and toured the facilities. It was a casual visit, and she left without an offer. But where previous interest from abroad never came to anything, something stuck in this instance. Stuck to the extent that she got on a plane to go back for the signing announcement even before all the details were completely finalized.
"They play good soccer; I think it will suit me," Lloyd said. "I think that I'll be surrounded by players that have a great soccer brain, know how to play and are technical. That's what I like. I'm not this player who is just going to go out and run around with my head chopped off. I like to play good soccer. I like to weight passes to people. I like to play with the outside of my foot and just really kind of finesse the game. I think that's what I'm going to get there.
"That's just the next challenge."
She does like those.