The storied star is ready to make her next move after retirement.
Carli Lloyd’s final professional soccer match last October marked her 316th game with the national team and a total of 134 scored goals for the United States—a career packed with monumental feats of athleticism. Yet, the 39-year-old legend says she “wasn’t someone who was naturally fit.”
“I had to push myself constantly to break fitness barriers,” she explained in an exclusive interview with Tonal. “I never wanted to set limits on myself. I’ve always wanted to just keep pushing and finding ways to evolve as a player and a person.”
That dedication to evolution led to two Women’s World Cup championships and two gold medals. In fact, Lloyd was the first American to score in four different Games and twice score the gold medal-winning goals (her 10 goals in the event are the most any U.S. player has ever scored).
Her stats speak for themselves, but Lloyd isn’t one to dwell on her accolades, a quality she credits as one of the secrets to her longevity in the sport. “I approached my career each and every year as if I hadn’t accomplished anything, so I just never became complacent,” she said.
Complacent is not a word anyone would associate with Lloyd, not in regards to her career nor to her training. Her sport-specific approach meant preparing for every aspect of the game: from the mental and tactical side to the physical side with endurance, plyometrics, and strength training.
For years, she kept her strength work “simple,” relying on bodyweight exercises. “I feared that lifting heavy weights for me made me feel slower and less agile,” she said. It wasn’t until coming back from knee surgery in 2020, that she started incorporating weights into her training. That shift “translated to me being the fittest, sharpest, most explosive I’ve ever been in my career at the age of 39,” she said.
As for endurance, a soccer player can run around four to seven miles over the course of a game, which requires consistent run training. “I didn’t like that,” said Lloyd. “I had to get out of this rut of dreading every time I had to leave my house for a run. I had to make it a part of my DNA until it actually felt rewarding.”
Now, a few months into retirement, she’s actually considering registering for a 10-mile road race as part of her retirement plans and incorporating convenient at-home strength training with Tonal into her new routine. “I was very, very impressed with how smooth it was, and I’ve tried a lot of machines,” she said.
That’s a big shift because when things don’t come easily or naturally, most people tend to shy away from them. “But the only way you grow as a person in all aspects of life is to be a little bit uncomfortable in the beginning,” Lloyd said. “Once you start to do something consistently, it becomes a little bit easier. And the more you do it, the better you become at it.”
That’s just one of the priceless lessons Lloyd learned from her soccer career. “Soccer has taught me so many core values: perseverance, getting back up again, that life is not going to give you exactly what you want at every single moment, learning how to adapt,” she said. “It’s prepared me for literally anything I may face in life.”
And it’s the toughest moments—like becoming estranged from her family, undergoing knee surgery at 38, and splitting from her trainer of 17 years before her final year as a pro—that have helped her find true strength, Lloyd said. Not the kind of strength that wins trophies or medals, but the kind that instills a deep sense of personal pride that exists on or off the field.
“To me, strength is how resilient this journey made me, and how I was able to persevere through every challenge that came my way,” she explained. “A lot of people would run away from difficult circumstances like that,” she added. “I was like, ‘bring it on.’ I’m going to be stronger just by getting through it.”
She didn’t just get through it; she ended her career on a high note, inspiring a whole generation of younger athletes and bestowing her prestigious No. 10 jersey to Lindsey Horan. “We became really close toward the end of my career,” Lloyd said. “I felt like I was this veteran who could help her, and there was no one better to hand that No. 10 off to than her.”
While she may have passed the torch to the next generation of soccer stars, Lloyd isn’t the kind of player that’s going to drop off the face of the earth in retirement. “I still want to be involved and help move the game along,” she said.
She set the bar high in her first year of retirement: After she and four other bold-name players filed a discrimination complaint back in 2016, U.S. Soccer and the U.S. Women’s National Team finally reached a settlement on February 22, 2022, that all players on men’s and women’s teams will be paid the same amount at all future tournaments, including the World Cup. It’s the kind of outcome that will have far-reaching effects within both the soccer world and the larger conversation around gender pay disparity.
As for what’s next, “there’s nothing in life that will ever fill the void of being a professional athlete,” she said. “I mean, you could try your whole life to replicate that. You just can’t. And I’m okay with that. Soccer is not my identity.”
For now, that means taking a breath and figuring out what doors might open next. “This retirement phase is sort of a new beginning, a second life for me,” says Lloyd. “For so long, I sacrificed so many things to focus on soccer. Now, I get to do all the things I’ve put on hold.”