Rather than the crowning achievement of her career, winning a second consecutive World Cup title marked the end of three years that Carli Lloyd hopes never to repeat.
In an interview this week on ESPN's Laughter Permitted with Julie Foudy podcast, Lloyd, 37, spoke at length about her frustrations with a diminished role on the U.S. women's national team after the 2016 Olympics and the toll the past three years took on her professionally and personally.
"I'm not going to lie and sugarcoat it," Lloyd said. "It was absolutely the worst time of my life. It affected my relationship with my husband, with friends. It really was rock bottom of my entire career. But somehow, you see light at the end of the tunnel, and I can honestly say I'm having more fun now playing than I ever have in my career. I think I just learned a lot throughout it."
Lloyd said that a badly sprained ankle suffered while playing for the Houston Dash in the National Women's Soccer League in 2017 took her off the field at a time when the U.S. national team under Jill Ellis was shifting to a 4-3-3 formation.
Feeling marginalized even at that time, the player who rose to fame as an attacking midfielder said she nonetheless committed to learning a new role as a forward to fit the new system. Yet despite believing she was playing the best soccer of her life as the 2019 World Cup arrived, the co-captain remained largely a reserve.
"There's no denying it," Lloyd said. "I deserved to be on that field that whole World Cup, but I wasn't. And I think I've grown as a person, as a player. It sucked. It absolutely sucked."
Lloyd played in all seven World Cup games for the U.S., but her only start came in the group phase against Chile. She scored in each of the first two games to set a record by scoring in six consecutive World Cup games overall. She also set a record as the oldest player to score two goals in a World Cup game, a month shy of her 37th birthday when she did so against Chile.
Although vocal throughout World Cup preparations and the tournament itself about her desire to start, Lloyd served as captain without incident. She reiterated in this week's interview with Foudy that her frustration was personal and not a distraction to the team.
"I was super happy for my teammates and happy for Megan [Rapinoe], who put the team on her back, and for several other players," Lloyd said. "It was great to see, and I'm happy that I could still have been a part of it."
With her interest in kicking footballs generating more attention of late, Lloyd said she's still entertaining that idea. However, she also said she feels she still has a couple of years left in soccer.
She scored eight goals in 14 games this season for the NWSL's Sky Blue FC. That helped a team previously plagued by poor performance and off-field controversy regarding its commitment to professional standards to an impressive uptick in results and optimism.
With Ellis stepping down as U.S. coach, Lloyd said she wants to talk with whomever takes over as coach about where she fits in for next summer's tournament in Japan, qualification willing. She didn't rule out a scenario in which she'd participate without a starting role, saying it was too difficult to set such parameters without knowing where a new coach was coming from.
"I hope a coach comes in that values me, respects me, wants me [as] a part of the Olympic plans," Lloyd said. "There's no question my abilities are there. I'm able to do it. Physically I'm able to do it. I would love to be a part of it, but I want to have an open, honest conversation, because if I'm not, I can't go through what I went through for three years."