Thursday, May 30, 2024

Carli Lloyd gives harsh appraisal of ‘dysfunctional’ USWNT setup: I would ‘raise hell’ over 2023 elimination

Retired U.S. women’s national team star Carli Lloyd is doubling down on her comments that the current squad lacks the championship-winning mentality and criticized the U.S. Soccer Federation for the direction the four-time world champions are heading in after disappointment at this year’s Women’s World Cup.

Lloyd’s comments came during part one of a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday’s episode of Kickin’ It, CBS Sports Golazo Network‘s new weekly interview series. You can watch all episodes on demand on Paramount+. Part two airs Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. ET.

The two-time World Cup winner also detailed the struggles she experienced during her career and said that the federation stymied her growth on and off the field and created a “dysfunctional” environment for USWNT players. The bold remarks come as little surprise since Lloyd has developed a reputation for being outspoken, especially since retiring as a player and transitioning to a new role as a broadcaster.

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“What I do best is I’m just myself,” she said during the interview. “That’s what I brought. I’m not somebody who’s just going to give fluff. I’m going to give my honest assessment and I was enjoying being able to do that.”

Here are some of topics discussed from the first part of her sit-down with Kate Abdo, Clint Dempsey, Charlie Davies and Maurice Edu.

World Cup postmortem

Lloyd diagnosed several issues she saw with the USWNT at this year’s World Cup, where they marked their earliest exit in program history when they were knocked out in the round of 16 by Sweden. Chief among them, from her unapologetic point of view, was that the squad lacked the mentality that was present in the past.

“The champion mentality that we’ve had throughout the years, since the inception of this team, that dog mentality, you’ve got none of that,” she said. “The character, the respect — technically, tactically, you could be great and have a coach that comes in, but if you don’t have all those other things, there’s no winning … I look at the U.S. women’s national team, Julie Ertz just left, but aside from her, I don’t see one player that has that mindset.”

Lloyd believes there was a culture shift and pointed toward a few specifics. She took issue with the fact that thermostats were adjusted to the players’ preferences before they checked into their hotel rooms in New Zealand, as well as the fact that players wore sunglasses and danced at times before matches.

“If I saw that, if I was a part of that team, I would raise hell and I would go directly to the players and tell them to take their sunglasses off and stop dancing,” she said.

For Lloyd, those specifics signal that some players were “taking every moment for granted” and also questioned their toughness.

“It has to be hard,” she added about playing for the national team. “I think all these players want to come in, want to feel comfortable, want to express themselves. It doesn’t work like that. Just do your job, come in, put the work in.”

She also took the opportunity to address the approach of Vlatko Andonovski, the team’s head coach from late 2019 before he resigned in August, following the USWNT’s World Cup disappointment. The two-time Olympic gold medalist played for Andonovski in the final two years of her career, including the pandemic-delayed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo when the Americans were eliminated in the semifinals to Canada.

“U.S. Soccer, they’ve kind of gone about this the wrong way,” she said. “Vlatko Andonovski was a nice guy, really nice guy. Just ’cause you’re nice doesn’t mean you’re going to win championships, though. You’ve got to make hard decisions. I look at my last Olympics, we had line changes up top because he couldn’t choose, [out of] all six veteran players, the three that he wanted out there at all times.

“So what did we do? I play one game, Alex [Morgan] plays the next game. I play another, Alex plays. You can’t do that. You’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to be direct. You’ve got to tell people what they need to hear and they may not like it, but I think the whole mindset needs to be different.”

Lloyd also justified her controversial comments on Fox’s broadcast of the USWNT’s 0-0 draw against Portugal at the World Cup, when she said their performance was “not inspiring” and criticized the team for signing autographs post-match. She explained her comments on air the following day but said she was not asked to apologize.

“It was live and it came from my heart because I poured my heart and soul out onto that team,” she said. “The next morning, coming in for production meetings, it’s like, ‘OK, I went real hard and I don’t want people to think that I don’t care.’ … I don’t want to come in the next day and be talking about the situation and beating a dead horse again. I said what I said and I wanted people to understand that this is coming from a place of care.”

The future of the USWNT

Lloyd predicted that the USWNT would not win the 2023 World Cup because “there’s so much fundamentally wrong” with the structure of the national team setup.

She noted a fractured youth system that does not adequately develop players, as well as recent struggles from the U.S. youth national teams that some have “turned a blind eye to” because of the senior team’s success. Lloyd also explicitly said that the current American player pool does not stack up to its international counterparts.

“I think that yes, they’re talented, but are they really that talented? That’s the question,” she said. “I looked at other teams, other players — Linda Caicedo, Colombia, Lauren James, England — the stuff that they’re doing on the ball, it doesn’t really compare to the players and I think that’s going to be the tricky thing with U.S. Soccer … We used to be fit. We used to be mentally tough. Tactically, technically OK, but now you have nothing.”

She also believes that U.S. Soccer puts too much pressure on young players to become stars, like Mallory Swanson and Christian Pulisic, but is currently not in a position to set them up to succeed. She said she saw signs of the culture shift during the Tokyo Games, when she “went off” following their elimination.

“We didn’t talk tactics after that game,” she said. “We talked what’s going on, what’s the problem with coaches and then we talked as a team and I hadn’t said anything all tournament long and finally, I just went off. [I] said to people, ‘Your Gucci shoes, your house, your cars, none of that comes unless you win on the field so when your brand becomes bigger than the wanting to win, that’s a problem.'”

She also pointed to her approach on self-branding, as she intentionally built her image solely around her on-field exploits.

“I wanted to be respected for what I did on the field, not for posing for a magazine or a swimsuit edition, none of that,” she said. “I didn’t want to even entertain that because I didn’t want any bias towards who I was as a player and so I built my brand with how I wanted to be portrayed and to be seen and so I didn’t wear makeup when I was playing, turned down Dancing with the Stars.”

Brutally honest with her assessment, Lloyd said the team needs to change the leadership tone to revert back to winning ways, and referenced Deion Sanders, the football coach at the University of Colorado, as a source of inspiration for her — and potentially for the federation.

“You almost need a Deion Sanders to come in and literally motivate the group,” she said. “Make the group really uneasy, that none of them are safe, that any moment their spot could just be gone in a second and you’ve got to get them just totally thinking a different way.”

Dysfunction during her career

The player-turned-broadcaster did not hold back when reflecting on the entirety of her 16-year international career, and described the conditions around the U.S. team as “dysfunctional.”

“Everybody looks at the U.S. women’s national team and they think 23 best friends, everybody gets along,” she said. “No. It’s the most dysfunctional group of players, but the most unbelievable environment to ever be in because you win … It’s unhealthy. It’s the grinding, the having to compete for spots, who’s getting deals and what person’s on a commercial this week. It’s human nature.”

Lloyd said she could never let her guard down because she felt she could not trust anybody, a feeling that was seemingly born from her view on how things are operated. She accused the federation of picking and choosing the players to serve as the team’s stars, and said she forced her way into the conversation through her on-field performances.

“[When] I came into the U.S. Soccer scene, I wasn’t somebody that was necessarily being groomed to be the star of the team nor do I think U.S. Soccer really wanted me to be the star of the team,” she said. “I just think U.S. Soccer, they like people that maybe just conform to the way that they want someone to represent them … Like a bit of a puppet, I guess you could say. Somebody that just comes and goes about their business.”

She alleged that the federation’s decision-making process negatively impacted her from a business standpoint, particularly as it pertained to sponsorship deals.

“I felt slighted in everything. I wasn’t with the agency that was sort of coupled with U.S. Soccer, where a majority of the players had those agents representing them,” she said. “For 10 years of my career, no sponsorships. Barely anything. No opportunities. Grinding away. Figuring out what do I have to do to have the world understand what I’m about or see the type of player that I am.”

Lloyd also felt that the marketing efforts were substandard, something the USWNT took U.S. Soccer to court over through their 2019 equal-pay lawsuit. She specifically called out a match in Philadelphia, near her New Jersey hometown, in which she was not the main star on display in their advertising materials.

“Not one banner down the streets in Philly,” she said. “There was a banner of somebody else — Julie Ertz. I love Julie Ertz. Her husband [Zach Ertz], at the time, was playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. This was towards the end of my career — how do you not have my picture up anywhere?”

The experience ultimately colors her feelings on her time with the national team, a period in which she said “nothing ever felt good enough” to the federation.

“At the time, when I’m trying to earn a living and I’m trying to give my all to the team and win and be possibly the best that I can be,” she said, “to not really have the support of the federation that you’re playing for, to not really be respected in that matter, it was pretty shitty.”

Kickin’ It airs every week, streaming for free on the CBS Sports Golazo Network. To watch previous interviews with Thierry Henry, Matt Turner and others on demand, make sure to tune into Paramount+. The second part of Lloyd’s interview will air Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. ET.

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