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KASHIMA, Japan — Carli Lloyd crouched to the ground and buried her head in her hands, and if you were to paint a picture of the end of an era, this would be it. Lloyd’s eyes drilled into the grass. Megan Rapinoe pulled out her shinguards and walked around in a daze.
“No one knows what to say,” Rapinoe said of those seconds that go on forever. “Everyone just wishes they could turn into dust.”
They’d just lost to Canada in an Olympic semifinal and fallen short of the gold medal they craved, and in the aftermath, they knew what these moments at Ibaraki Kashima Stadium would likely represent.
They wouldn’t quite say it.
“I haven't really put too much thought” into the future, Rapinoe said.
“We've got another game to play,” Lloyd said, referencing Thursday’s bronze medal match. “That's all I'm thinking about.”
But they knew why the questions were being asked. They’d had a moment together on the field after a gutting 1-0 loss. “We’ve been in this a long time together,” Rapinoe said of Lloyd. And she knew: “We’re both closer to the end than the beginning.
“One of the greatest players that’s ever pulled this jersey on,” Rapinoe continued, speaking about her teammate, and then she almost said what everyone assumed. “So it’s probably — I mean, who knows, it might not be her last Olympics — but it probably is. Obviously we want to send everybody out on the happiest note, and we weren’t able to do that today.”
Lloyd, 39, has not said whether the 2021 Olympics will be the final chapter of her storied soccer career. Years ago, she thought it’d be over after 2016. Following a triumphant 2012 Olympics, she decided she had two cycles left in her. Last month, toward the end of that second cycle, and fourth overall, she told Yahoo Sports: “I'm definitely nearing the end. I think the hard thing is, it's not that my body's not breaking down, I haven't lost a step, I don't feel that I've gotten worse the older I've gotten. … It's basically gonna come down to just a life decision, wanting to start a family with my husband, just wanting to live.”
But she’d envisioned going out on top, and here she was on Monday night, anywhere but.
“Heartbreaking,” she said.
Heartbreaking, in part, because Lloyd and Rapinoe and the rest of an aging USWNT core — Becky Sauerbrunn (36), Tobin Heath (33), Alex Morgan (32), Kelley O’Hara (32), Christen Press (32) — had shared so many moments at the other end of this stark emotional binary. So many days-long celebrations. France 2019. Canada 2015. London 2012.
“We've had an amazing run,” Rapinoe said.
They’ve won trophies, lifted women’s soccer to levels of popularity previously untouched, fought for change beyond the sport and perhaps even changed the world.
“And we've had a lot of nights that look different than that,” Rapinoe said.
So yeah, she said, “that,” a dud of a defeat in an Olympic semifinal, was a bit bittersweet, “kinda sad.”
“But I feel like it's in good hands,” she continued, and then she spoke like a proud parent, appreciating what she and her friends had accomplished, knowing that their influence would last.
“This group below us, and even younger than that, are just a great group, and fantastic footballers,” Rapinoe said. “So I feel like we've done our job.
“But you never wanna have it end."
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