Jill Ellis has made two excellent choices in naming Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn as the new captains of the U.S. women’s team.
Any young player looking for guidance on how to train, how to be a teammate, how to represent her country, how to act away from the field, how to advance the women’s game, would do well to follow the lead of these two.
On the pitch, they’re two of the smartest, most respected players in the world.
Sauerbrunn, 30, has been called the best defender on the planet. Her imprint on games is usually subtle, characterized more by the things that don’t happen when she’s at center back than by dazzling individual feats.
Simply put, Sauerbrunn almost never makes a mistake. She’s rarely caught out of position, rarely gets beaten one-on-one, rarely makes a bad pass or commits a dumb foul. With Hope Solo, she makes sure the U.S. backline maintains its shape, and there’s rarely a breach.
Sauerbrunn appeared in 25 of the team’s 26 games in 2015, each time as a starter, and led in minutes played. At the World in Canada, she was on the pitch for every minute of all seven U.S. matches.
Lloyd, already the most prolific scoring midfielder in U.S. history, seems only now to be hitting her stride — at 33.
She had her best year by far in 2015, scoring 18 goals to lead the team. She and defender Meghan Klingenberg were the only two Americans to appear in every game.
It was her performance at the World Cup, however, that made her an international sports celebrity. She won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. With six goals, she tied Celia Sasic of Germany as top scorer.
In the title match, she dismantled Japan with three goals in the first 16 minutes.
Lloyd has established herself as the star who can put the team on her back at crucial times, as Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach once did. (A few years ago, everyone thought Alex Morgan would inherit that role, and some day, she still might. Sadly, though, injuries have kept the 26-year-old striker from fulfilling her dazzling potential.)
In the World Cup semifinal against Germany — a much tougher contest than the title game against Japan proved to be — Sasic missed a penalty kick that would have given her team a 1-0 lead early in the second half.
Nine minutes later, Lloyd took a PK, after Morgan was fouled in the box. She didn’t miss. Lloyd’s assist to Kelley O’Hara in the 84th minute put the game on ice, sending Germany home, Sasic into retirement, and the Americans on to their third World Cup title.
It will be a massive affront if Lloyd is not named the Women’s World Player of the Year when FIFA makes that announcement on Monday (Jan. 11).
Lloyd and Sauerbrunn succeed Christie Rampone and Abby Wambach as captains. Wambach, of course, has retired. Rampone, whose minutes plummeted in 2015, is out for four to six weeks, recovering from knee surgery.
They are the 13th and 14th officially designated captains in the 31-year history of the U.S. women’s team. Various other players are assigned to wear the captain’s armband on a game-by-game basis — for example, if someone is celebrating an important career milestone.
When Lloyd and Sauerbrunn are both on the field, Lloyd will wear the armband.
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