On Oct. 26, the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) took the pitch at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn. to finish off their Olympic celebration tour. After playing against Paraguay in Cincinnati and Cleveland in September, the U.S. kicked off the second leg of their four-game tour against South Korea in Kansas City before coming up north to the Twin Cities. Despite playing to a 0-0 draw in K.C., the Americans put on quite the show in St. Paul, walking away with a confident 6-0 win over the Koreans.
While a game such as this one might normally be considered an unimportant friendly, the game was incredibly significant to both the team and fans, as it marked the final time that U.S. soccer legend Carli Lloyd would take the field wearing the U.S. crest. Lloyd, who has played on the national team for 17 years, is set to retire from professional soccer at the end of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season with her club team, Gotham FC. After starting the game wearing the captain’s armband, Lloyd was subbed off in the 65th minute. When the fourth official raised the substitution board with her number, 10, illuminated, Lloyd symbolically unlaced her cleats and raised them in the air. She then took a moment to hug each of her teammates before she made her way off the field. The emotion could be both read on her face and felt in the atmosphere as the crowd cheered her off the field one last time.
It is difficult to put into words what Carli Lloyd’s retirement means to American soccer. In trying to sum up her impact, many people point to her game winning goals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games or her astonishing 16-minute hat trick in the 2015 World Cup final. Lloyd has produced some of the most unbelievable and iconic plays on the global stage, leaving a personal mark on the beautiful game. However, what makes Lloyd’s retirement more impactful, and more emotional, is the way in which it marks the beginning of the end of an era for the USWNT. Fans have long wondered when Lloyd, who is 39, would retire, and now that she has, people are left wondering who will be next.
Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn, both age 36, have played on the national team for 15 and 11 years, respectively. While Tobin Heath is only 33, she is nearing 14 years as a member of the squad. None of these players have announced plans to retire. However, the sense that some major retirements were just around the corner has been lingering over the team for a while, and Lloyd’s retirement made that feeling a reality.
The sense of transition could not only be felt in the stadium due to Lloyd’s retirement, but could be seen on the field as well. As Lloyd took the pitch for the last time, she was predominantly joined by the “kids” of the team, with five of the 11 starters being age 23 or younger. It isn’t uncommon for newer players get game time during friendlies. The lower stakes means that it is an optimal opportunity for younger players to get their footing and build chemistry with the team. However, fans can’t help but wonder if the decision to start so many younger players is a sign that a major shift in the team’s roster is soon to come. It is hard to imagine a USWNT without the likes of Rapinoe, Sauerbrunn, and Heath, but the retirement of Lloyd is a stark reminder that that day will inevitably come. With what seems to be a surge of new, young talent, the only question that remains is, “How soon will the transition come?”