Lloyd builds on tradition of 1999 World Cup champions

The U.S. women who won the 1999 World Cup were well aware of their roles as pioneers for their sport.

Players such as Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly believed that somewhere out there was a generation of girls who would someday accept the torch and hopefully advance the women’s game in the U.S. and throughout the world.

One of those girls was Carli Lloyd, then 16 and now the 32-year-old hero of the 2015 team, which won the United States’ third Women’s World Cup championship — and first since 1999 — on Sunday with a 5-2 win over Japan.

“When I watched the ’99 team play, never do you really think that you can be a part of something like that, be a part of a World Cup team,” said Lloyd, who scored three goals Sunday. “Never do you really think that you could play in a World Cup final and win. But as I’ve gotten older, I think each year that self-confidence has enabled me to continue to do what I’ve been doing. It’s great. Those were the pioneers.”

Now, Lloyd sees herself and her teammates as heirs of ’99, who may be paying it forward to another generation.

“I think it’s huge: the amount of coverage and the amount of support that we’ve had from our fans,” she said. “It’s inspiring. We made history, we were a part of history. … Now it’s our turn to keep the tradition going. And in four years’ time, we want to be the world champions again.”

Beyond inspiring the coming generation of young players, Lloyd went out of her way Sunday to honor the legacy of a great U.S. player, Abby Wambach. When Wambach checked onto the field in the 79th minute, Lloyd made a point of going over and handing her the captain’s armband.

“It’s been an honor for me to take on that leadership, to wear that armband,” Lloyd said. “... When Abby’s came in a few of the games, it’s just a little bit crazy to switch the armbands. Today, I wanted to make sure that she put the armband on because she deserves it. She’s been legendary to this team. … I’m just so proud that her last World Cup, she could go out strong.”

Wambach was playing in her 25th World Cup match — second only to Lilly’s 30 and the most on the current roster. However, at 35, Wambach had lost her starting position.

“(Lloyd has tried to hand over the armband) several times before. … but this time she kind of insisted,” Wambach said. “… In all seriousness, I don’t care who wears the captain’s band. … I’d give up all of my individual awards for what we just did tonight, and it’s the truth. It’s the wholehearted truth that sitting my rear end on the bench, watching my team win the World Cup, I’d choose that over world player of the year, over scoring more goals than anybody in the world. I’d choose winning the World Cup as a team any day of the week.”