By Glenn Crooks
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U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Carli Lloyd scored in the third minute and the fifth minute of the World Cup Final last summer. There were supporters who hosted viewing parties and missed the early fireworks because they were flipping burgers for their guests.

Lloyd finished with the first hat trick in Women’s World Cup history in just the first 16 minutes of the eventual 5-2 win over Japan.

Lloyd, who played for me at Rutgers University and is the school’s all-time leading scorer, was recently named the FIFA World Player of the Year and the CONCACAF Player of the Year. On Monday night, the Delran, New Jersey native was honored as the Athlete of the Year by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Before the festivities, I had an opportunity to sit with the 33-year-old captain of the vaunted American side.

Let’s look at what has happened since your hat trick in the World Cup Final against Japan. You’ve played 10 matches and have 13 goals. So, things have gone pretty well in the aftermath?

Carli Lloyd: “Yeah, I wasn’t aware of those stats. I’ve just been putting my head down and continuing to work. I’m not resting on what happened this summer in Canada. I just want to keep getting better.”

In addition, in the NWSL, you went back to Houston (Dash) and you scored in your first three matches back, including the game winner from 30-35 yards out against FC Kansas City in the 86th minute.

Lloyd: “It was good. I was riding the wave. I was very, very busy post-World Cup, going into Houston, flying all over the place for appearances. I was pretty mentally zapped and tired, but when I got on the field to play games it was like I could shut the whole world off and just play and have fun.”

Was there a period where you know that you needed to take some time off?

Lloyd: “I think in November is when I nearly crashed. I had been going non-stop. It was the right time to do that, but now it’s back to business, picking and choosing what I can do and what I can’t do.”

At one point, bridging the World Cup and your matches with the Dash, you scored in seven consecutive matches. The streak stopped when you lost to the Washington Spirit, 3-1. Crystal Dunn scored all three goals for the Spirit. What do you think of Crystal?

Lloyd: “I’m so proud of Crystal, she’s really raised her level. She could have responded in a few different ways when she didn’t make the World Cup roster — immediately she started scoring when she went back to her team. I’ve seen it — she’s a great player and a great person on and off the field.”

(Note – Dunn was the last cut from the U.S. team last summer)

How about the other young players, including Lindsey Horan, Sam Mewis, Stephanie McCaffrey, Jailine Hinckle and Mallory Pugh?

Lloyd: “These younger players are bringing a different dynamic to our team and it’s fun. They’re out there and they just want to compete. They ask questions – they want to be helped. Obviously, we are sad to see some of the older players go, but this is a new chapter and a new era and it’s been really great so far.”

Have you seen enough of 17-year-old Pugh to determine if she is the “real deal?”

Lloyd: “She’s got talent. She came in ready. I think the biggest thing is going to be (being) consistent at this level. I know the pace was a little bit faster for her coming from the U-20s, but that’s expected for anyone. If she keeps working hard and wanting to get better and improve, she’s definitely going to (be) someone who is around this team for a while.”

The lawyer for the USWNT recently said that the days of the women playing on artificial surfaces are over. That had to be good news.

Lloyd: “That was very good news. Not playing the match in Hawaii was a turning point for our group to demand better standards. Turf is not good — your body takes a toll. We want to be on grass, we want to be on good surfaces. I think we deserve that.

So, the players refused to play the friendly against Trinidad and Tobago in December — 24 hours before the game was scheduled to kick off. What was the timetable for that difficult decision?

Lloyd: “We trained on the surface the day before for the first time. We had to alter our training session – we didn’t compete five-on-five like we normally do. As a team, we met on the bus on our way back to the hotel. That’s when we made the decision. With the short turnaround, with the game the next day, we knew it could get ugly. But US Soccer was supportive of it, and they apologized.”

Jill Ellis named you a permanent co-captain recently, which adds to your responsibility within the program. The USWNT Collective Bargaining Agreement is up at the end of the year. What are some of the issues that you may focus on?

Lloyd: “First, I’m honored to be captain of this team. I never would have really thought I’d be a captain. I think I’ve grown as a person and player and now is the right time for me to lead this team. There are off-the-field and on-the-field things that we need to continue to fight for. We are the No. 1 team in the world and we need to keep raising the bar.”

The picture of you and Lionel Messi at the Ballon d’Or was stunning — the top female and male soccer players in the world. How was that moment for you?

Lloyd: “Those two days was actually the most nervous I’ve been in my entire career. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. It was one of the best moments, by far, hands down. It was a goal of mine and 13 years later I accomplished that goal — and it’s made me hungrier for more.”

For all things soccer, including coverage of the Red Bulls and NYCFC, follow Glenn on Twitter at @GlennCrooks

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