It’s funny how stories can get eaten in the news cycle. The news broke yesterday that the expanded World Cup format was going to happen, and it was unmistakably A Big Deal. But it subsumed what should have been the big story of the day, which was FIFA’s big award show (inexplicably renamed The Best). Cristiano Ronaldo won for best male footballer of the year and an Asian player won the Puskás Award for the first time, and somehow both of those stories were overshadowed.
That’s because Carli Lloyd won the award for best women’s footballer for the second year in a row and there’s a vigorous debate over whether she deserved it.
So let’s put a few things out there upfront. Carli Lloyd is an incredible footballer. She’s one of the best in the game, she deservedly wears the armband for the USWNT, and she’ll likely go down in history as one of the greatest female players this country’s ever produced. When she won this award last year there was little doubt that the right player took home the statue, as her dominant performance in the Women’s World Cup was still fresh in people’s minds. While Lloyd is often— strangely and unjustifiably— underestimated in terms of her play and her importance to the national team, she remains without a doubt near the summit of women’s football.
But the award in question was meant for acknowledge outstanding performances in 2016, and on those terms, there’s a defensible argument to be made that someone else should’ve won yesterday. Even if you don’t look at her club performances last year— and voters for the women’s award do tend to ignore club play— Lloyd didn’t have a great year. A good year, sure, but not a great year. She tallied 17 goals and 11 assists for the national team, and five goals and three assists with the Houston Dash in a season largely curtailed due to injury. But even judging her only on international play, there were likely other footballers more worthy of the award.
The other two players on the shortlist were Marta and Melanie Behringer. The former, who remains one of the top players in the world, put a struggling Brazil side on her back and led them to the Bronze Medal match at the Olympics. The latter was the leading goalscorer at said Olympics and ushered Germany to the Gold Medal podium. Cases could be made for other players who didn’t make the shortlist, such as, Christine Sinclair, or Élodie Thomis, or even Tobin Heath (who won US Soccer’s best women’s player award for 2016).
So why Lloyd again? Who knows. Maybe she had such a dominant 2015 that some of it carried over into the next year. Maybe it was simple name recognition. Maybe the people who vote on the women’s award don’t actually follow the women’s game and just didn’t know that Lloyd had an off-year. (This is FIFA, afterall.) Or maybe she really did deserve the award and this is just a case of a loud corner of Soccer Twitter being Mad Online.
Whatever the reason, Lloyd is still undeniably one of the best in the game and deserves recognition for her talent. Even if 2016 was something of a mulligan.