MANAUS, Brazil (CBSNewYork/AP) — Carli Lloyd is in her element.
Known for making the most of big moments, the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year has picked up right where she left off when she scored a hat trick in the World Cup final last summer.
Lloyd has scored a goal in each of the U.S. team’s first two matches to open the Olympics, helping the Americans advance to the quarterfinals. They’ll play one more opening stage match Tuesday against Colombia for position heading into the knockout round.
“I haven’t had a ton of chances in these games, but the chances I have had, I’ve been ready,” the Delran, New Jersey, native said. “I’ve spent the last four years in front of the net just hammering away and shooting. And just kind of becoming a sniper in front goal.”
The United States, ranked No. 1 in the world, is vying for its fourth straight gold medal and fifth overall in the six Olympics since the women’s game was added to the Games. The only other team to win gold was Norway in 2000 in Sydney.
The Rio Games is Lloyd’s third Olympics. The first two helped establish her clutch reputation.
At Beijing in 2008, she scored in overtime for a 1-0 victory against Brazil in the final.
She was benched before the 2012 London Games by then-coach Pia Sundhage, who liked the combination of Shannon Boxx and Lauren Holiday in the central midfielder position. The demotion didn’t last long, however, because Boxx was injured in the opener.
Lloyd started the rest of the way and scored both goals in the gold-medal match against Japan.
She’s the only player to score winning goals in consecutive Olympic finals. With two goals in Brazil, she’s also the only American player to score multiple goals in three Olympics.
Lloyd has eight career Olympic goals, second among Americans to Abby Wambach, who collected 10 before her retirement last year. Overall, Lloyd has 90 career goals.
Of course, Lloyd is best known for the World Cup final last year in Canada when she scored three goals in the first 16 minutes of the final against Japan. The United States won the game 5-2 for its third overall World Cup title.
She has been able to find success in the big international tournaments because of her renowned focus and playmaking ability, but also because of her conditioning — when other players are fatigued after the grind of several matches in a short period of time, Lloyd is still fresh.
Lloyd was sidelined for some 10 weeks earlier this year after she sprained her right knee in late April during a match for her club team, the Houston Dash.
But she has looked in peak condition in Brazil. She scored within the first nine minutes in a 2-0 victory over New Zealand in the opener, and then scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over third-ranked France.
True to form, Lloyd was already looking ahead shortly after the win against France.
“The thing about this tournament is you can’t dwell on anything too long,” she said. “You’ve got to move on and focus on what’s next.”
The matches Tuesday in Manaus, in the country’s Amazon region, are already sold out. The other is between host Brazil — with superstar Marta — and South Africa. Brazil has also advanced already to the quarterfinals, along with Canada.
Colombia has already been eliminated. On Monday, coach Fabian Taborda said one of the team’s top players, Catalina Usme, had an injured left knee. Lady Andrade and Carolina Arias are suffering “exhaustion.”
There’s no way to know if Taborda’s comments were simply gamesmanship.
In the other matches on Tuesday: Australia plays Zimbabwe and New Zealand plays France in Salvador. Second-ranked Germany plays Canada and China plays Sweden in Brasilia. The Olympic tournament is being held in stadiums across the country.
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