NWSL playoffs: Gotham FC’s Carli Lloyd seeks storybook ending to an already legendary career

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Carli Lloyd is approaching what could be her final game as a professional soccer player as the 2021 National Women’s Soccer League playoffs begin. After making her 316th appearance for the United States women’s national team in a farewell international friendly, Lloyd is headed to the NWSL quarterfinals with NJ/NY Gotham FC.

How they got here

The road to the playoffs wasn’t easy for Gotham, which had to play without Lloyd during the Olympics and experienced a coaching change in August. The club got back on track to navigate their way to the playoffs along with the return of Margaret Purce from injury in September. They closed out the season with a streak of eight games without a loss (three wins, five draws). 

With three straight draws to close out the season, Gotham needed other results to swing in their favor in order to finish in fifth place to set up a date with fourth-place Chicago Red Stars at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois, on Sunday on CBS Sports Network. The winner will move on to the semifinals against the Portland Thorns.

Will Lloyd have another clutch performance?

History suggests you can count on the experienced Lloyd showing up in big matches when presented with must-win or knockout scenarios. The 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and her iconic 2015 World Cup semifinal and hat-trick performance in the final come to mind.

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Even in 2021, the 39-year-old veteran was responsible for the equalizer during the 2021 Challenge Cup final to send Gotham into a penalty-kick shootout against the eventual Challenge Cup champion Portland. The New Jersey native made 14 appearances for the club this season, and scored four goals and recorded one assist. If Gotham find themselves advancing into the semifinal of the 2021 NWSL playoffs, Lloyd can best help her team as a playmaking supportive role. 

Lloyd’s off-ball movement and ability to stretch backlines paired with technical and savvy attackers such as Purce and Ifeoma Onumonu give Gotham one of the best attacking units in the league, with 29 goals scored this season (tied for fourth). Take a look at this link up between Lloyd and Onumonu for a goal during their penultimate regular-season match.

One last title chase

Lloyd has two World Cup titles to go along with her three Olympic medals (two gold, one bronze) and two FIFA World Player of the Year accolades, but is still chasing her first NWSL title. She made an appearance in the final with Western New York Flash in 2013, during the league’s inaugural season. Now Lloyd returns to the NWSL playoffs with a chance at one last title. Three wins stand in the way for a storybook ending for Lloyd.

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