Predicting Carli Lloyd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – James Galanis had drafted a text message for Carli Lloyd on Sunday morning, a few hours ahead of the 2015 Women’s World Cup final.

Galanis is Lloyd’s personal trainer and the person whom the U.S. midfielder credits for turning around her career. He exchanges text messages with Lloyd every day, but on Sunday, Galanis decided not to press the “Send” button.

“He started texting me that I would score three goals today, and he deleted it because he thought that I was just going to be focused on scoring three goals and not just letting it happen,” Lloyd told NBC SportsWorld on Monday, after a few hours of sleep and many hours of celebrations.

It turns out, Galanis was prophetic. A few hours after deleting that text message, Lloyd went out and put forth the single most dominant display in the history of a Women’s World Cup final – the sport’s highest stage – scoring three goals in the first 16 minutes to propel the United States to an emphatic 5-2 victory over Japan. The Women’s World Cup title was the United States’ third, the most of any country.

But Galanis did send his usual email to Lloyd that day, just as he does before every major tournament and before every tournament final. In a decision that speaks to the intricate understanding of player and personal coach, Galanis knew that just the usual email would suffice on Sunday.

The email read as follows:

Ms Lloyd. I have spent a lot of time reflecting and the thing that sticks out the most to me is that you are once again going into this final as the best Carli Lloyd there ever was.

You have broken barriers again and gone to a level that no one was expecting and are on the brink of shocking the world again. 

Today you will rise again because:

1) Apart from being the best Carli Lloyd ever, you are going into this game loaded with a confident mental state.

2) Because you are going into this game knowing you haven’t achieved anything yet and you will once again fight like an underdog that never gives up and claws her way to the top. 

3) Because tactically you are playing in a position that allows you to express yourself and get into positions to win the game all on your own. 

4) Because the Japanese rely on shapes rather then [sic] pressure and this will allow you to showcase the marvelous skill you posses [sic] and stick a dagger into the folks that dared to call you unskilled. 

5) Because you are the only player that can take a game and own it.

6) Because you are the most intimidating and feared player on the planet and the Japanese know it.

Time to make this World Cup yours.

And that is exactly what Carli Lloyd did on that hazy afternoon in Vancouver: She made this World Cup hers, which was always the plan.

Lloyd, who turns 33 years old this month, is no stranger to the big stage: she is the only man or woman in history to score the gold-medal winning goal in two consecutive Olympics, sealing the 2008 and 2012 titles for the United States. She also experienced the heartbreak of the 2011 World Cup final, a penalty-kick loss to Japan in which Lloyd missed one of the spot-kicks, skying the ball over the bar.

Seven years before that moment, in 2004, Lloyd nearly quit the sport. She had been cut from the United States’ U-21 national team and she was out of shape and lacking motivation. That’s when she connected with Galanis, who saw a player with raw talent in need of some guidance.

“I used to see her and think, ‘This girl’s going to waste her talent,’” Galanis told NBC SportsWorld last October.

With Galanis’ help, however, Lloyd hasn’t wasted a moment in a very long time. Sunday’s performance was record-smashing. She became the first woman to record a hat trick in a World Cup final; her opening goal, in the 3rd minute, was the fastest in World Cup final history. She was also the first American to score in four straight World Cup matches, finishing the tournament with six goals after coming alive in the knockout stage.

Like so many elite world athletes, Lloyd visualizes success. She sees it every day when she sleeps, when she eats, when she walks around. At times during this World Cup it has been difficult for Lloyd to sleep. She was imagining herself lacing one of those trademark, driven shots. She envisioned those moments that she would beat a defender, just as Lloyd did with force when she beat a Japanese player to the ball on her first goal Sunday, and as she did so casually when she touched the ball past a defender before scoring her third and most spectacular goal from midfield.

“These last few nights leading up to the final, I caught myself just constantly thinking about it,” Lloyd told NBC SportsWorld on Monday. “I just had chills. [I] was super excited, super anxious and I would wake up, I’d roll around in bed a little bit and I’d catch myself dreaming about it again. Mentally, you need to be so switched on and for me, I think that was the biggest difference.”

Part of Lloyd’s way of focusing is to go into her own space, isolated from family, friends and any potential distractions. Her family doesn’t travel to major tournaments, instead giving Lloyd the mental freedom and space she desires. One of her aunts, two cousins and a friend actually broke the unwritten rule on Sunday and were in the stadium for the final, but they didn’t tell Lloyd until after the game. Lloyd’s fiancé, Brian, was going to come to the final after staying home for the entire tournament, but he changed plans and watched Sunday’s game from New Jersey, “because he thought that we wouldn’t get married if he showed up,” Lloyd said jokingly.

Before the start of the World Cup, Lloyd was on a field in Medford, N.J., running sprints with her headphones in. It is a field she has trained on since she started playing soccer over 25 years ago. She still trains there regularly with Galanis, working on her game while in between national team camps or away from her professional team, the Houston Dash.

On that spring day, Lloyd envisioned playing in another World cup final. She imagined scoring four goals in that (at the time hypothetical) World Cup final. Lloyd almost scored a fourth in the opening half-hour on Sunday in a performance that might be best described as that of a player possessed.

Galanis, however, was correct again on Sunday (“He’s pretty much predicted everything to this point,” Lloyd says of Galanis’ reading of her career): Lloyd would score three times on the day, etching her name into the folklore of the most prestigious women’s soccer program in the world.

After the epic final, Lloyd called Galanis, who has been in Greece on vacation (even he doesn’t come to major tournaments). Galanis’ first words on the phone were those of a coach who always knew what his player was capable of:

“I told you so,” he said.

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