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US forward Carli Lloyd still has plenty in reserve

Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Soccer

LYON, France -- Carli Lloyd has adapted to her role as a reserve forward on the incomparably deep U.S. women's World Cup team, but that doesn't mean she likes it.

A starter for 13 years, the New Jersey native is too much a team player to put her concerns above the success the Americans have enjoyed while blasting through group play and clawing out three straight 2-1 wins to reach the final Sunday against the Netherlands.

Still, Lloyd's hunger to make an impact hasn't been softened by age -- she will be 37 on July 16 -- and she chose her words carefully the other day when discussing how her journey to her fourth World Cup appearance has been different compared with the years she played a prominent role and scored so many clutch goals on international stages.

"There's a lot of things that are out of your control in life, and you can either look at it as a negative or you can look at it as a positive," said Lloyd, who scored the gold medal-clinching goals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and recorded a hat trick to lead the U.S. past Japan in the 2015 World Cup final.

"I know that my ability and my work ethic and many things I bring to the team, the intangibles, I can be playing out there. There's no doubt.

"But for whatever reason, the coaches have made that decision, and I come in and it's my job to make something happen. These last three games I've come in and I've had 10 minutes and it's my job to close out those games."

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Lloyd, the world player of the year in 2015 and 2016, started only one of the first six games here and scored two goals in a group-stage victory over Chile. She also contributed a goal to the tournament-opening 13-0 rout of Thailand. But since she played 45 minutes as a substitute for an injured Alex Morgan in the final group game against Sweden, Lloyd played merely five minutes against Spain in the round of 16, eight minutes against France in the quarterfinals and 10 minutes against England in the semifinals.

Coach Jill Ellis used Lloyd as a deep midfielder in the 2015 World Cup until Lloyd pushed to be unleashed and backed that up by scoring in each of the last four games, including her hat trick in the final in a 13-minute span. Putting her in midfield again wouldn't work here because it's not an attacking position in Ellis' current system.

Lloyd is limited now to playing striker, and that spot is rightfully owned by Morgan, who shares the tournament lead with six goals. The spots on the wings belong to Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe, with Christen Press available if Rapinoe is again unable to play because of a hamstring injury. Press scored the first U.S. goal against England.

As much as Lloyd believes she could have played a bigger role here, she's not blind to the significant improvement in skill that has elevated the women's game over the last four years. "I think that there's just kind of been an evolution, a change, a transition," she said. "Obviously, the game has gotten tremendously better and with that, we've seen Jill experiment with younger players and different players throughout this chunk of time and brought together a core group that's really united and backs each other, and it's really cool to see.

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