Published April 28, 2016
Standing beside Lionel Messi on stage, Carli Lloyd found her place at the top of world soccer.
Lloyd was shoulder to shoulder with Messi on Monday, both cradling golden trophies from FIFA as the world's best players in 2015.
Even at 33, the United States captain and inspiration of its Women's World Cup title has a career plan to let her one day match Messi's five FIFA awards.
"Last night was the moment where I said to myself that I can remain one of the best players in the world for the next five years," Lloyd told The Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday.
Lloyd and Messi, the captain of Argentina's national team, reached the same goals before, as Olympic gold medalists in 2008.
Back then, Messi's self-belief was far ahead of Lloyd even after she scored the winning goal against Brazil in the Beijing final. When she scored both goals in the next Olympic final — beating Japan 2-1 at Wembley Stadium in London — things started to change for the New Jersey native.
"Since the 2012 Olympics is when I pretty much started to believe that I could go on to do it," Lloyd said at a hotel just a block away from the concert hall where she joined the elite.
Lloyd arrived in Zurich as the strong favorite to join American greats Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach on the FIFA award list. She was favored to win after scoring three goals in her third major title win, a 5-2 rout of Japan last July.
"I didn't know what I was coming into," Lloyd said of the FIFA show. "The anticipation was more nerve-wracking than any Olympic or World Cup final I've ever played in."
Rugged and raw was how Lloyd described herself on stage earlier in the FIFA ceremony. The effort to hold back tears before starting her acceptance speech with a quiet "Sorry" to the applauding audience took her somewhere new.
"I'm not a super emotional person," she said. "I'm pretty tough and raw in my nature but something like that, it's uncontrollable.
"I never really believed I could reach this point, though I was striving for it. I'm extremely humbled."
A 13-minute hat trick in the World Cup final earned three VIP tickets: The red-carpet FIFA event followed the team's ticker-tape parade in downtown Manhattan last July and a trip to the White House in October. Lloyd and Wambach flanked President Barack Obama in the team photograph.
"I've gotten used to the glitz and glamor world that comes with it," Lloyd said, before adding: "It's never an enjoyable night to wear heels. I'd rather be in my soccer cleats, but it's fun."
Lloyd is quickly back in uniform this week at a training camp in Los Angeles to prepare for Olympic qualifying matches. No women's team has taken Olympic gold one year after winning the World Cup.
"My 2015 is good but 2016 needs to be even better," said Lloyd, who will marry long-term partner Brian Hollins after the Olympics.
The same is true of women's soccer, which could emerge from the chaos of FIFA's corruption crisis as a big winner.
One year ago, Wambach came to Zurich as a nominee and met with FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke. She stressed the players' anger and legal fight against FIFA letting Canada host the World Cup on artificial turf.
The old regime seemed to sell women's soccer short, whatever then-President Sepp Blatter said about being their pioneer supporter.
"I think it was a great stance on our part to fight that, even though we didn't win," Lloyd said Tuesday.
Today, Blatter and Valcke are gone from FIFA and advocates for women's soccer seized a chance to press their agenda during more modernizing reforms.
Lloyd was impressed with Moya Dodd — a FIFA executive committee member, lawyer and former Australia captain — who is pushing gender equality into the leadership vacuum, using the (hashtag)womeninFIFA campaign on Twitter.
"I just met her (Monday) night and she's incredible," the United States captain said. "Especially with everything that has gone on with FIFA, they need to take a step back and restructure things.
"I think that we deserve that," Lloyd insisted. "We sacrifice and dedicate our lives just as much as the men do."