Both are two-time World Cup champions and Olympic gold medalists.
Each has led a World Cup in goals, scored in a final, taken home the Golden Ball as the tournament’s outstanding player and won a FIFA best player award.
On Monday they’ll share one more experience when the U.S. faces Colombia in Orlando, Fla., in the national team’s first game of 2021 because neither has played a competitive game in more than 10 months, Rapinoe due to coronavirus concerns and Lloyd after undergoing knee surgery.
And that game could be the first step on the final soccer journey for both.
Rapinoe will turn 36 and Lloyd 39 in July, the month the Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to open. Neither is likely to stick around for the next World Cup in 2023, so both want to make the most of whatever playing time they have left.
“From a very selfish and personal standpoint,” said Rapinoe, “there was so much positive that came from this long layoff. I don’t think I’ve been this rested my entire career.” Rapinoe spent much of 2020 quarantining with fiancée Sue Bird, an 11-time WNBA all-star.
“I actually feel really good physically and just refreshed in a lot of ways, mentally and emotionally. But I’m obviously so excited to start playing again. It was really difficult to not be out on the field with my teammates, and to not have a consistent training environment.”
Lloyd said her unplanned break had also had positive consequences.
“During my career, I’ve had to make so many sacrifices and have never really been able to shut off,” she wrote in a recent Facebook post. “I can honestly say I was able to shut off my competitive mindset and live life to the fullest.”
Despite their impressive resumes, neither Rapinoe nor Lloyd is guaranteed a starting spot on a national team that is evolving under coach Vlatko Andonovski — though the absence of forwards Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath and Christen Press from this month’s training camp will lead to some extended playing time.
Morgan, who gave birth to a daughter in May, played just 45 minutes for the U.S. last year and was absent again after testing positive for the coronavirus. Heath and Press elected to remain with their club team, Manchester United, in the Women’s Super League. When all three are with the team, they could start up front, with newcomer Catarina Macario — a two-time Hermann Trophy winner at Stanford — pushing to join the mix.
The midfield is also full, with four players — Rose Lavelle, Julie Ertz, Sam Mewis and Lindsey Horan — competing for three spots. But Andonovski said Sunday his two veteran leaders had been impressive in training, and he expected they would play in both his team’s games this week.
“Both Carli and Pinoe actually look better than what we expected. They look better than last time we saw them in terms of physical preparedness, mental preparedness,” he said. “They’re physically ready, they’re physically fit.”
The U.S. has won all 11 of its games under Andonovski and is unbeaten in 32 straight, having lost just once in 61 games dating to July 2017. The team is also chasing history by trying to win World Cup and Olympic titles in back-to-back tournaments.
Normally, those tournaments are played 12 months apart, but this time the Tokyo Games were delayed a year by the pandemic, something Rapinoe said might make the task easier.
“It’s so difficult to go World Cup and Olympics,” she said. “You spend sort of a year and a half preparing for the World Cup. And then you have to turn it around so quickly and do the Olympics, which is an even tougher tournament because of the timeline.
“So the team, I think, is in a really good place and excited to be back together. For me, personally, I feel a lot better this January than I did last January.”
Rapinoe has had long layoffs before, thanks to two ACL tears in college and another after the 2015 World Cup. But last year was more challenging, she said, because the coronavirus closed parks and gyms, making it difficult to stay fit.
“I hate to work out on my own as it is,” she said. “So to have to do that for 10 straight months and try to keep myself motivated was very difficult.”
Having Bird to push her helped.
“Just mentally it put us in a good place of, like, ‘OK, let’s work out for our health and our mental health.’ Do as much as you can. Know that you’re not going to be able to do everything or beat yourself up about it.”
For Lloyd, last year’s injury limited her to six appearances in 2020, fewest for club and country since she debuted with the national team in 2005. Lloyd also broke with James Galanis, her longtime personal coach and the man she had approvingly referred to as her “guru.”
But she plans to respect the timeline Galanis has laid out for her and retire after the Olympics, a decision she’s more comfortable with now after the longest break of her 16-year career.
“There is no secret the most important takeaway from 2020 was reconnecting with my family,” she wrote on Facebook. “Everything happens for a reason…. I don’t have it all figured out, but I love growing and learning.
“I’ve never been happier and more at peace as I am right now. I feel as if the weight of the world is no longer on my shoulders and the sky is the limit.”