Despite a 3-0-0 record in the group stage, big questions faced the United States after its offense struggled to create goal-scoring opportunities. Alex Morgan was still recovering from injury and Abby Wambach was showing signs of age.
Somebody needed to step up and spark the U.S. attack.
So, head coach Jill Ellis turned to her team captain and star midfielder, Carli Lloyd. In the quarterfinal against China, Ellis made a risky decision, moving Lloyd into a more attacking role with midfielders Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe sidelined. The Rutgers alum answered by scoring six goals in the final four games, including a first half hat trick in the final over Japan.
Brandi Chastain left her mark on soccer history in 1999, providing an image that soccer fans will remember forever. Carli Lloyd did that in 2015, scoring an absolutely jaw-dropping goal for her third of the game.
Yes, the U.S. was already up 3-0 at that point, And, yes, the Japan keeper was out of position. But, Lloyd's goal will be shown on World Cup previews and highlight reels for years to come. For Lloyd to have the presence of mind to even attempt a shot from midfield while up 3-0 shows her aggressive, tenacious mentality. An aggressiveness that the rest of team seemed to feed off of after Lloyd got going in that quarterfinal win over China.
Once Lloyd found her rhythm, so did the U.S. team. Rapinoe and Tobin Heath streaking down the sidelines. Alex Morgan beating defenders with her deadly cutback. Julie Johnston and Meghan Klingenberg whipping in dangerous balls from their defensive positions.
The entire attack came together once Ellis took the reins off of Lloyd.
She was the obvious choice for the Golden Ball Award, given to the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, as she tied for tournament-lead in goals with six (Lloyd tied with Celia Sasic of Germany, who missed that crucial PK in the semifinal).
Lloyd's performance is a also huge boost for her alma mater. She showed that New Jerseyans don't have to spurn their state school for more attractive, out-of-state options in hopes of success and fame. Lloyd not only made Rutgers Nation proud, but the entire country.
For one special night, a Rutgers alum was the biggest sports star in the world.