FRISCO, Texas -- Based on her start with the U.S. women's soccer team, it's safe to say Carli Lloyd's recent scoring outburst was a surprise.
The 24-year-old midfielder had just one goal in her first 23 games, then racked up four in four games as the U.S. won the Algarve Cup in March. Now she's considered one of the team's top players while preparing for September's Women's World Cup in China.
"She's really begun the process of putting her game together and applying it within our team," said U.S. coach Greg Ryan, whose team faces Canada on Saturday in a friendly. "What you're seeing now is a player who's maturing and knows how to connect with everybody on the field, but it's not limiting her expressing her abilities."
Her breakout tournament against some of the world's top teams also helped motivate Lloyd, the 2004 Big East Midfielder of the Year for Rutgers.
"I was playing well prior to that, but once you knock a few goals in the net, your name starts to get out there, so I think that gave me a lot of confidence," Lloyd said. "It also gave my teammates a lot of confidence in me that I could help the team out."
One of her most valuable assets is her booming shot and her ability to generate offense.
"She's got one of the hardest strikes I've ever seen in a female soccer player and she's very accurate," Ryan said. "There's no pressure for her to score, but we want her to keep taking her shots, because she has such a great shot. If she keeps shooting, she's going to get a lot of goals."
While attacking has always come naturally, Lloyd has worked hard to cultivate her defensive game.
"Growing up, I was always that neutral player that never really had to defend," Lloyd said. "I wasn't really taught that aspect of the game, so it became a habit of not defending. It's not that I couldn't defend, so once I focused on working both sides of the ball, it became natural, almost."
With Team USA at No. 1 in the most recent FIFA women's world rankings, Lloyd will need to continue to produce in the Women's World Cup.
"I know if I go out in every game and practice and keep things simple at first and work hard, things will come," Lloyd said. "I'm not placing any pressure on myself, I kind of have that free spirit that things will always end up working out."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press