Carli Lloyd has surely seen the highs and lows of international competition in the last four years. The U.S. women's soccer midfielder has experienced the euphoria of scoring a game-winning goal to earn an Olympic gold medal for her country, followed by heartbreak when the U.S. national team gave up a late lead in the World Cup final last summer, falling to Japan in penalty kicks.
Of all the Olympic medals the United States hopes to win this summer in London, there may be no American side more motivated to win gold than the women's soccer team.
That motivation, it seems, can come from different experiences. Is the women's team motivated to defend its gold medal—the same motivation that drives, say, the men's and women's basketball teams this Olympics? Is the women's team more motivated because the demoralizing loss to Japan is still, a year later, fresh in the players' minds?
"Both," Lloyd offered in an interview we conducted on her training grounds at the Universal Soccer Academy in New Jersey before the national team headed over to London. "This could be our third (consecutive) Olympic gold medal. We pride ourselves in that and we are going after it again.
"There's some bitterness from the loss against Japan, so that's driving us even more."
We should be worried if there wasn't bitterness. Following a run to the World Cup final that saw the women knock out another favorite, Brazil, in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks before rolling through France in the semifinals, the United States looked to have victory locked up in extra time of the final against Japan after Abby Wambach sent home what felt (at the time) like a career-defining goal in the 104th minute. The lead didn't hold, as Homare Sawa netted the improbable equalizer for Japan in the 117th minute to send it to penalties.
The U.S. missed its first three penalty kicks in the shootout, including Lloyd's rocket over the bar with the second attempt, falling, 3-1, to Japan and giving away what must have felt like a certain victory just moments earlier.
If they need the reminder—or the motivation—from the World Cup final, there are certainly enough players on the current Olympic team who were on the field that day. All but two of the players on the U.S. Olympic team were on last year's World Cup team. Much of the core of this women's roster was also standing atop the medal podium in Beijing, giving them a much more positive history to strive to repeat.
Win or lose, this Olympic team is one of the most experienced teams in major tournaments in recent memory. Lloyd, herself, is entering her fourth major competition in the last six years, having played in the 2007 World Cup before starring in the last Olympics. Lloyd echoes her teammates in understanding how special it is to have the chance to win gold again.
"There are not many opportunities to win medals and to win championships. For me, my career could be ended tomorrow. You never know, so I'm not going to take anything for granted and go after that gold medal."
With Olympic pool play running from July 25 through July 31, including an opener against France followed by matches with Colombia and Korea DPR—played at Old Trafford—the women's national team has little time to sit back and revisit the highs and lows of the last four years.
It's time to win again, to get the taste of the World Cup out of their mouths and defend the gold medal they've gone to London to bring back home.
Anything less seems flat-out unacceptable.
(Look for more videos this week with Carli, including some super cool trick shots, as well as a bet where she puts her gold medal on the line in a penalty kick shootout—with me in net. Fun times.)
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