It’s the first heat wave of the year, and soccer supernova Carli Lloyd is on fire for the wrong reason: Her air conditioner broke last night. “Figures, right?” she says. “It wasn’t bad sleeping, but I really hope we get it fixed.” Her cousin is stopping by her house in Mount Laurel for a visit, and Lloyd had to break the news that they’re in store for a rather steamy hangout. It’s not quite noon on this Friday in June, and she’s here at Freedom Park in Medford with another, slightly greater concern — she’s about to test her right knee for the first time since falling to the turf with a grade one MCL sprain two months ago. None of the moms and dads and kids circling the playground nearby notice that the nation’s Olympic gold-medal hopes could crumble if Lloyd cuts left or right and something goes awry. In fact, no one notices Lloyd at all, even though she’s not just the top women’s soccer player in the country — last year, the Delran native (along with Argentine legend Lionel Messi) was crowned best in the world.
Lloyd begins with some straight-ahead sprints across a beach volleyball court, and soon she’s soaked in sweat and straining for oxygen. Soccer players train for stamina, to keep them gliding back and forth across the pitch for 90-plus minutes. Dashing in the heat like Usain Bolt, after weeks of nothing but light jogging, is taking a toll.
“Oh, man,” she says between breaths. “I’m not used to this.”
Lloyd’s longtime trainer, James Galanis, watches and offers steady encouragement. “Nearly done,” he says, hair slicked back above his shades. As for the climbing temperature: “One of those things you can’t control. So you can’t worry about it.”
To say Lloyd is riding a hot streak into the Rio games this month is like saying Joel Embiid likes a Shirley Temple every now and then. Her superhuman performance in last summer’s World Cup resulted in six goals, with a hat trick to beat Japan in the finals. To put that in perspective, it’s uncommon for an entire team to score three goals in a soccer game. Lloyd accomplished that herself, including a jaw-dropping rainbow shot from midfield, when the stakes were highest. Parades, galas and the talk-show circuit followed, as did the title of number one on the planet at what she does. Now it’s time, beginning in Brazil, to prove she’s worthy of the accolades.
Lloyd is also driven by something bigger, something that began in South Jersey, where she still lives and still trains with Galanis. She’s a success story that could only happen here — the product of a rabid soccer culture and a unique bond with her trainer/coach. Galanis, a Melbourne native who still speaks with a heavy accent and punctuates sentences with “mate,” gambled on a young college player with talent to burn but a toughness deficit. Today, Lloyd stands with titans like Carl Lewis and Franco Harris as one of the best athletes ever to hail from South Jersey. And if Galanis didn’t happen to vacation in Greece when his star pupil was 10 years old, no one would know her name. Read more »