The following is my goodreads review of When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World by Houston Dash and USWNT standout Carli Lloyd. I have copied and pasted it here without (more than a few) edits.
Buy this memoir, read it, be inspired by it, and either
a) pass it on to your favorite teenage jock or jockette who can actually read books, or
b) donate it to a local high school library.
Since 1999, I have loved the US Women's National Team, warts & all. These athletes have inspired millions of American girls to grow into strong women, and our nation needs more strong women. They have served as role models, mostly positive, both on and off the pitch. They come from a variety of backgrounds, not all privileged suburban kids with indulgent parents. Beyond our borders, the USWNT's success has inspired other nations to create women's programs that can compete at the highest levels, whereas women's sports had been a mere afterthought.
Thus I am taking the time to devote hundreds of words to reviewing Carli Lloyd's life story, as if it were an important book. Lloyd is not a perfect player, not always the smoothest on the ball, but when she lets loose one of her trademark shots from 30+ yards out, you can feel the impact in the upper deck of the stadium. The same when she makes crunching midfield tackle. She isn't just powerful; she is power personified. Just as importantly, Lloyd has a huge heart, and she feels deeply just how much she and the team mean to all those soccer girls.
Let's get a couple of minor disappointments out of the way before moving on to why this book is a worthy read.
First, as a supporter of the Houston Dash and Dynamo, I find the lack of any mention of the Dash distressing. Well, the jacket flap notes that Carli Lloyd currently plays for the Dash, but she and co-author Wayne Coffey didn't see fit to mention it. Even though it rankles me, I understand why the Dash organization did not rate a shout-out, and the word "Houston" appears just once (as the setting of some qualifying or friendly match, I forget which).
Lloyd transferred to Houston from the Western New York Flash just before the beginning of the 2015 season, when most of her focus was on the Women's World Cup, and if you learn just one thing about Lloyd from her book, it's that she is focused af. Training for the WWC kept Lloyd, Morgan Brian, and Meghan Klingenberg away from the Dash for half the season. Despite her achievements with the club in the other half, Lloyd likely viewed club soccer as a distraction from her real job. Also, while she was winning a world championship, why should she bother to waste any ink on a club that finished 5th out of 9 and didn't make the playoffs?
The second disappointment is that Lloyd's life is not very interesting—at least, as related by Lloyd herself. She doesn't make a good talk-show guest. Unlike Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Ali Krieger, or Alex Morgan, she won't do ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue. She grew up in a working-class town in southern New Jersey, but she did not suffer much privation (because even as recently as the 1980s a family could live comfortably on a working-class income). This year she married the guy with whom she has been almost continuously since high school, golfer Brian Hollins. If it weren't for the as-yet-unresolved rift with her family, apart from the on-field recollections there would be no drama at all. That's perfectly fine for Lloyd, who tells us that she hates drama and has constructed her life to minimize it.
I got the sense multiple times that there were details left out, mostly in the service of keeping the book PG. Compare this to Solo's memoir Solo—nah, you can't. Hope Solo's life has been nothing but drama, and Solo did not skimp on f-bombs. In life outside the lines, Solo has overcome a lot more than Lloyd; sometimes the overcoming hasn't been pretty, and sometimes there were obstacles of her own making.
Thirdly, Lloyd certainly could have devoted more than just a throwaway half-paragraph to her role in pursuing equal compensation for the women's and men's teams. Even though the suit was quickly dismissed and forgotten, it was an important statement. Yes, it's a fact that the revenue of the men's team dwarfs that of the women, because our sporting and media infrastructures have a centuries-old bias toward men's sports; but, as we say in Texas, that don't make it right. The women work just as hard, the USWNT plays more competitive and friendly matches per year, and I believe that paying them equally would go a long way toward increasing ticket sales for the USWNT and the National Women's Soccer League.
So what's to like in this slim memoir? Yeah, as jock memoirs go, it's pretty damn jock-centric, with detailed re-livings of important matches. But those scenes are remarkably well written. Lloyd is smart enough that not all the clever phrasings can be attributed to co-author Coffey. I imagine that they watched a ton of video together from various Olympic, World Cup, Algarve Cup, and international friendly matches in the process of producing the book, with Lloyd reconstructing exactly what happened on the field and combining that with what was going through her incredibly agile mind.
I'll freely admit that I was on the verge of tears in the chapter about the 2015 World Cup final against Japan. It brought back in living color how incredibly the US team had progressed from three underwhelming performances in the group stage to improving by quantum jumps in each elimination match, and finally turning in its most dominating performance ever while the Japanese side had its only bad match of the tournament.
We also meet the towering figure of James Galanis, who has served as Lloyd's personal trainer for 14 years. He is her Mr. Miyagi. He insisted from the beginning that he would take her on only if she was 100% committed to improving her fitness and her game, willing and able to drop everything to train. Also, he hasn't asked for a single dime for his trouble: Just being part of the creation of Carli the Awesome has been reward enough.
Lloyd's obsession with training and self-improvement, even when she could be enjoying life on top of the soccer world, results from some early disappointments of her own. She discovered the hard way that just having the skills was never enough, and that while some of her teammates in youth, college, and U21 soccer could give their all and be effective for 90 or 120 minutes without such intense training, she could not. So, as she acknowledges, she has had to work her ass off.
The fact that she has maintained this superhuman determination for so many years is an inspiration, but also a bit intimidating. That teenage jock or jockette to whom you give a copy of When Nobody Was Watching needs to know what it takes, not just to be the best but to become the best andremain the best. If they aspire to be a professional athlete—regardless of their preferred sport or their skill—ask them if they have the same level of commitment as Ms. Lloyd.
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