As Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and their United States football teammates prepared to take the field to play Australia for the bronze medal on Thursday, it was not surprising that the match – and the Olympic tournament – would be held on this day. Will be the last appearance of the kind. The grand stage for some of the most accomplished players on the US team.
That debate has most notably focused on Lloyd and Rapinoe, two former World Players of the Year, two players with World Cup championships and Olympic gold medals on their resumes, but also two players now closer to 40 to 30. Youngsters trying to hold back teammates. The Dying of the Light.
“Are you trying to push me to the pasture too?” Rapinoe, 36, joked on Monday that, several times, he was asked if he thought the Olympics would be his last.
Lloyd, 39, has been far more reflective about the subject, but also about the other things he holds for his post-football life. Book offer. children. Travel that doesn’t include stadiums or grueling training sessions.
“I’m not going to lie: I miss normal life,” Lloyd said this week. “I miss home, miss my husband, family, friends. But this is what you sacrifice every four, every five years – that’s all part of it. It eventually ends at some point. So I just try to savor every moment.”
He did that after losing to Canada on Monday night, lying on the field thinking the Canadians were only celebrating in yards. She then put herself through a typical session of postgame sprints, on the same ground in Kashima, where – perhaps – she will play her last meaningful game with the team that has consumed her life for two decades.
The Olympics, whether Americans go home with a bronze medal or empty-handed, are seen as a transitional moment for the United States women’s program. The next World Cup is two years away, in Australia and New Zealand in 2023, and the Paris Olympics a year later. A new core may emerge. New talent will join in, and respected veterans may be put to the side in the name of progress. This is how teams develop, even a team as good as the United States.
For players, however, who have spent a generation in the US team—Lloyd played his first game for the US senior team in 2005, and Rapinoe made his debut a year later—this is the commitment they must weigh: in the fight. To stay, not for a few more months of top-level football, or not for a year, but maybe three of them.
“Of course, I’ll obviously think about it after the tournament,” Rapinoe said, refusing to offer more. “We don’t get the luxury of going one year at a time. We have to think in these four-year blocks. I haven’t really thought about it.”
It offered a window into his thinking, however, in talking – perhaps not intelligibly, but certainly appreciatively – about the achievements of his generation, and what happened after he and others left the team. Will happen. In addition to Lloyd and Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, who is 36, may soon face the same decision.
“Obviously there are some of us who are closer to the end than the beginning, of course, and we’ve had an amazing run,” Rapinoe said after Canada’s loss. “We’ve had a lot of nights that look different from him.
“We’ve been through a lot together. So it’s kind of sad, but I think it’s in good hands. This group below us, and even smaller ones, is a great group of footballers.
“I think we’ve done our job, but you never want it to end.”