Carli Lloyd’s memoir digs deep into ‘Jersey edge,’ family tensions and the cost of a career

Plenty were watching Carli Lloyd and the United States women’s national team stun Japan in the final of the 2015 Women’s World Cup last summer, but the entire premise of Lloyd’s new memoir–When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World–rests on the thousands of hours of work that went into those 90 minutes. A very short read at 224 pages, Lloyd with author Wayne Coffey details her life’s journey to the top of the soccer world.

Lloyd doesn’t take very long to hit full stride either, by page six in the prologue she’s already laid out her entire modus operandi as a soccer player:

…I am one of of those athletes who thrives on slights, whether real or imagined. My trainer James [Galanis] calls it “the underdog mentality.” He does everything he can to cultivate it, and he’s gotten an unintended boost from U.S. Soccer’s marketing department, which for years basically ignored me in its promotional initiatives. Before the 2015 Women’s World Cup, you might’ve been able to find a Carli Lloyd U.S. Soccer jersey, but only if you looked hard. Did I lose sleep over that? I did not. Did it annoy me? It did. James knew that and used it, just as he uses it when a writer rips me or I am getting blown up on social media. He knows I am at my best when I am playing with an edge, with some Jersey girl attitude, getting after it like a kid who has had her lunch money stolen and is hell-bent on getting it back.

But a few pages after that, and it’s already hard to avoid juxtaposing Lloyd’s memoir with Abby Wambach’s Forward. The two books cover much of the same ground from the perspective of the national team careers overlapping–Greg Ryan vs. Hope Solo in 2007, many of the same major tournaments including the 2015 Women’s World Cup triumph. But where Wambach spends so much of her time battling internal forces, Lloyd admits to not just battling external enemies, but actively seeking them out.

[More from Excelle Sports: Abby Wambach looks for a way ‘Forward’ after soccer]

VANCOUVER, BC - JULY 05: Carli Lloyd of USA scores her teams second goal during the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 Final between USA and Japan at BC Place Stadium on July 5, 2015 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Lars Baron - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC – JULY 05: Carli Lloyd of USA scores her team’s second goal during the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 Final between USA and Japan at BC Place Stadium on July 5, 2015 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Lars Baron – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

And where Wambach admits early that soccer was a vehicle for validation, not just from herself but especially from her parents at an early age, Lloyd certainly falls in love with the game itself as a kid. But there’s a common thread here: that small children with big talent won’t simply have to overcome challenges on the field. And while it seems that Wambach finally comes to accept soccer’s role in her life, there comes a point in Lloyd’s book where the most of the joy of simply playing disappears.

Part of this might stem from the strained, and inevitable estranged, relationship Lloyd has with her parents. More of it comes from the completely single-minded work ethic shared by Lloyd and her trainer James Galanis. That’s not to say Lloyd doesn’t enjoy playing the game, but simply that if there are moments of pleasure, between the never-ending runs and skill sessions, the reader can’t quite tell. Even as Lloyd describes her World Cup hat trick, the tone is more of matter-of-fact triumph rather than pure, dumb ‘can you believe it’ joy.

When Nobody Was Watching:
My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World

via the Excelle Sports shop.


Yes, there’s the core message of the book to adhere to–that work hard mentality that has defined Carli Lloyd since she joined the national team, the very definition of dedication to her work When Nobody Was Watching. There are no surprises after that title.

Beyond the family strife and the influence of Galanis, there are two other primary motifs: first, the constant need to find someone to prove wrong, and second, the firm insistence that she is above the drama of the U.S. women’s national team while still dedicating multiple pages to that very drama. Of course, her insistence aside, Lloyd detailing unfriendly veterans or her take on the 2007 incident with close friend Hope Solo or her reaction to Pia Sundhage’s comments about her confidence makes for excellent memoir fodder. And while Lloyd consistently stops short of naming names for the most part, this is more in the wheelhouse of what most were expecting from both her book and Wambach’s.

“It is not the first time that an industrial-sized chip on my shoulder works to my advantage.”

If there’s one moment that seems to actually be missing in the Carli Lloyd call-out list, it’s the total falling out between Lloyd and the Western New York Flash front office after being traded to the Houston Dash.  (The Dash are absent from the book entirely.) The league takes a bit of a backseat in the book for the most part, but there are a few super specific anecdotes that make it in, just more examples of Lloyd thriving off when others dismiss her.

One such example is from the inaugural year of the league, in which the Flash are looking to secure the playoffs against Sky Blue. Lloyd has heard that Jim Gabarra, then head coach in New Jersey, had told the owner of the Flash that Lloyd would cause him problems. Not only does she not overlook it, she goes on to score both of the Flash’s goals in the 2-0 semifinal win.

I shake Jim Gabarra’s hand after the game and say, “Next time maybe you will think twice about saying stuff about me. ”

He says he doesn’t know what I am talking about.

“You know exactly what I am talking about,” I say, and then I walk away.

As Beau Dure notes in his review in the Guardian, much like with Wambach’s book, by the end the reader has realized the cost it takes to reach the top. And more than that, we are now hoping the best for for these athletes in ways we previously were unaware of off the field:  “And we root for her to leave behind the world of paranoia and perfectionism in which she has lived for more than 10 years, and we hope that future athletes won’t give so much of themselves in pursuit of glory.”

So yes, there’s a real cost at stake, but it’s clear that Lloyd is not just proud of the result–it’s her entire life’s work. At least so far.

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