Carli Lloyd has won just about everything there is to win during her 11 years with the U.S. women’s soccer team. A World Cup title, two Olympic gold medals, three tournament MVP awards.
What she’s never gotten, however, is the recognition she thinks she deserves. That changed Monday when Lloyd won soccer’s highest individual honor by being named FIFA’s women’s world player of the year.
Honored alongside her at an awards gala in Zurich, Switzerland, was her coach, Jill Ellis, who was chosen FIFA’s top women’s coach for 2015. On the men’s side, Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona and Argentina was named the world’s top player for a record fifth time.
Lloyd, 33, is the third American to win the award. Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach are the others.
“I’m very, very honored and humbled,” said Lloyd, whose hat trick in the opening 16 minutes of last July’s World Cup final with Japan propelled the U.S. to its first title in 16 years.
“This has been a dream of mine since I’ve started playing for the national team. I honestly never ever thought that this would be possible. Then you finally hear your name called, just everything comes into play. The blood, the sweat, the tears, the frustrating moments, the good moments, it’s just a reflection of hard work and keeping your eye on the prize and having a dream and going after it.”
Lloyd had a career-high 18 goals last year, including three game-winners in the World Cup. That earned her nearly three times as many votes as her nearest rival, Germany’s Celia Sasic, in balloting by more than 270 national team coaches and captains and a panel of 106 international media representatives.
Ellis, 49, took over the national team less than 13 months before last summer’s tournament and went on to lead the U.S. to an unbeaten run through the largest and most competitive Women’s World Cup in history. By sharing the stage with Lloyd, it marked the second time in four years the U.S. has swept both the women’s player and coach prizes. In 2012, Wambach and Pia Sundhage were honored.
“This is not an award for an individual. It really is an award for our program,” said the British-born Ellis, whose father John coached club and academy teams in the U.S. and England. “Everybody from our equipment guys to our medical team to our assistant coaches and videographers, I mean everybody played a part of that.
“And on top of that, just the players, the 23 players that we went on this journey with. So I’m just delighted because I think it’s truly a reflection of them.”
Ellis has lost just three of 49 games with the national team, including an unbeaten seven-game stint as interim coach after Sundhage stepped aside in 2012.
Messi, meanwhile, beat out La Liga rival Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal to win the men’s Ballon d’Or for the first time since 2012. Messi and Ronaldo, who plays for Real Madrid, have combined to win the last eight player-of-the-year awards.
Messi’s Barcelona teammate Neymar finished a distant third in the voting, and Barcelona’s Luis Enrique was named men’s coach of the year.
With five player-of-the-year awards before his 29th birthday, Messi appears to be ending the debate over who is the best of all-time. But that didn’t stop him from taking another jab at Ronaldo on Monday.
“It’s a very special moment for me to be back here on this stage winning again, after being there in the audience watching as Cristiano won for two years,” he said with a grin. “It is incredible that it is my fifth award, and it is much more than anything I dreamed of as a kid.”
However, before the ceremony Messi made it clear what he really wants is what Lloyd and Ellis already have: a World Cup trophy.
“Team awards are more important than individual ones,” he told reporters. The World Cup, he added, “is every player’s objective. It’s really the pinnacle.”
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