It's safe to say 2017 was a year Carli Lloyd won't speak fondly of, but leave it to the two-time world player of the year to make sure she still got the final word in.
As the U.S. national team wrapped up 2017 with a 3-1 friendly win over Canada on Sunday in San Jose, California, Lloyd capped the scoring with an 80th-minute strike off the bench. It was just her second international goal of the year, and her first from the run of play.
That statistic speaks to the challenging 12 months Lloyd has endured. Having failed to leave her mark during the Americans' last-place SheBelieves Cup run in March, Lloyd embarked on an up-and-down loan with Manchester City. After being shut out over three matches in the Tournament of Nations this past summer, Lloyd suffered an ankle injury in August that ended her NWSL campaign with the Houston Dash after just eight games and two goals.
By Lloyd's sky-high standards — she scored 18 goals for the U.S. in 2015 and 17 last year — that's quite the downturn. As U.S. coach Jill Ellis used the 35-year-old off the bench in four straight games to end the year, the question has been raised: What exactly should Lloyd's role be?
Lloyd will turn 37 soon after the 2019 World Cup in France, and she'll be 38 by the time the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo roll around. Based on age alone it's easy to envision Lloyd as a veteran reserve in those tournaments, echoing the role Abby Wambach played during the 2015 World Cup triumph. The emergence of Samantha Mewis, Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle as advanced midfield options — complementing the established likes of Morgan Brian and Tobin Heath — makes that possibility all the more likely.
Yet Lloyd showed a glimpse of her old self Sunday, perfectly reading the situation to bury Alex Morgan's redirected header for the late goal. She played with vigor throughout her 15-minute appearance, adding a dose of ambition in the final third. Given a full offseason to recharge and reflect, Lloyd figures to enter 2018 with a healthy chip on her shoulder.
Few players, if any, can rival Lloyd's work ethic. She'll use any notion that she's past her prime as further fuel. While matching her prolific goal-scoring exploits of 2015 and 2016 may be a tall task, it's safe to say Lloyd won't be sliding into a secondary role without a fight.
Here are two more thoughts from the Americans' win over Canada:
Press leaves her mark on flank
With Tobin Heath and Mallory Pugh sidelined, and Crystal Dunn not released from club duty with Chelsea, Ellis found herself venturing down the depth chart on the right flank.
It was Lynn Williams who earned a surprise start up top alongside Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe in Thursday's 1-1 draw with Canada in Vancouver. Offering plenty of pace but not enough polish, Williams didn't leave much of an impression.
So Ellis turned to Christen Press at Avaya Stadium. Although the 28-year-old has carved a niche as Morgan's backup at center forward, she has plenty of experience out wide as well. And she got the job done Sunday, threading the inch-perfect through ball that teed up Morgan's 56th-minute winner moments after Janine Beckie had drawn Canada level.
It wasn't an eye-catching performance aside from that sequence, with play largely flowing through Rapinoe on the opposite flank. But it's another moment for Ellis to remember when she considers the pecking order for a crowded forward corps.
Rapinoe and Ertz end 2017 on high note
Rapinoe and Julie Ertz found themselves very much on the outside looking in at the U.S. lineup as recently as June, reduced to late cameos as Ellis explored other options.
But the Tournament of Nations represented a return to form for the U.S. mainstays. A year and a half removed from suffering a torn ACL, Rapinoe showed the acceleration and audacity to reclaim her spot on the left flank. Ertz, meanwhile, wholeheartedly embraced a transition from center back to rangy defensive midfielder.
Both players ended 2017 on a high note Sunday. They connected on the opening goal, with a Rapinoe corner kick finding the head of Ertz for yet another finish at the near post. Rapinoe then used a clever bit of skill to beat her defender to the end line and whip in the cross that led to Lloyd's insurance tally.
As World Cup qualifying looms in 2018, there are no more questions surrounding these two veterans: Rapinoe and Ertz are officially back on track.