As the last day of group stage action concluded in the women’s football tournament at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, supporters across the globe were eager to see if their country’s finest would make it to the next round. Sweden was the only team to sweep the group stage with three wins and nine points to advance to the quarterfinals. The Netherlands won their group and finished with an astonishing +13 goal differential. The most surprising match of the day came from America’s clash with the Matildas of Australia. A scoreless draw would see the U.S. claim second place in Group G while Australia saw themselves through by taking one of the two third-place spots.
While America may not boast football as its country’s identity or favorite sport, it has provided a wealth of opportunity for footballers across the globe as a conduit for higher education and professional development through the college system. Take the aforementioned USA-AUS match for example. Australian goalkeeper Teagan Micah got her first call to the national team right before the Olympics and went through UCLA’s globally recognized program. Almost all of the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) roster went through a Div-I program at the highest level before getting drafted into or playing for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). So it’s no surprise that a budding-superstar from England would find her way to America to sharpen her skills and hone her talents. Enter Lexi Lloyd-Smith.
Lexi’s love of football began when she was around six years old. While walking through a local park, her brother asked their mom if he could play football and Lexi followed suit. “At first my mom was like, ‘girls don’t play football” Lexi explained. “But my stepdad said, ‘yea just let her play for fun’ and it just progressed from there.”
Her football path started at Southwark Caribs where she was the only girl on the squad. She took that experience with her to Arsenal where the majority of the girls had only played against girls. Meanwhile, Lexi had a leg up on her peers with aggression and grit having played with boys for five years before she made the change. “When I got scouted, that was the first time I even knew there was an Arsenal, Chelsea, or Man City,” she states. When she played with her local team, it was for the fun and enjoyment it brought. It wasn’t until she was scouted that she was introduced to a new world of playing professionally for a big club.
Even off the pitch I was a bit cocky when I was younger, but I did some things because boys would mess with me saying I wasn’t good.. So I had to show them a few things on the pitch.”Lexi Lloyd-Smith
The pacey wing-woman enjoys her ball on the right side and loves the 4-3-3 formation. When we discussed movements, tactics and the like, her entire mood started to shift. The initial lighthearted conversation quickly turned into a passionate plea for attack-minded football. “I like the front three dominating as much as possible,” she said while readjusting her phone (our interview was via video chat). Her face held a youth-like innocence but her tone of voice belted ferocity like a lioness. “I like working with my striker… and I like the right back behind me, so yeah… just a normal 4-3-3”. She spoke as if dashing defenders to mince meat was her ultimate pleasure and having conveyed this message, a look of satisfaction swept her face.
Lloyd-Smith’s alignment on the wing was a natural fit she discovered as a youngster. She’s always had pace to burn, and because of it, found herself covering as much of the pitch as possible. That pace mixed with the grit she would develop playing against boys, turned her into a force to be reckoned with. “Even off the pitch I was a bit cocky when I was younger, but I did some things because boys would mess with me saying I wasn’t good.. So I had to show them a few things on the pitch,” she laughs.
The edgy winger played four seasons at Arsenal, two seasons at Chelsea, and most recently for the first team at Charlton Athletic, before making her trek across the pond. Lloyd-Smith decided to take her talents to the University of South Alabama, a school whose women’s program went as far as the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season.
Even more impressive than Lexi the player, is Lexi the person. She loves her community and has extensive plans for reinvestment via coaching and mentorship. “I’d like to get a coaching job with young girls when I’m older and definitely in my area. If not in my area, then just girls in general… To just build girls football. It will be important for me to make a change in the world and for me that would be coaching a girls team.”
On top of having a heart for outreach, she was a stalwart in the Black Lives Matter movement in England and humbly credits her mother for all of her accomplishments. “She’s played a massive part in my development,” she said proudly. “I feel like without her, her input, and desire from the beginning putting her time into me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
It was a very big deal. It was something that switched for me, I was like, I wanna do this for the rest of my life. I wanna play football.“Lexi Lloyd-Smith on her first call up for England
Ultimately, her goal after college is to sign a pro contract. The Southwark Caribs product boasts big club experience (Arsenal, Chelsea), soon-to-be collegiate experience at the highest level (NCAA Div-I), and copious involvement with her national team. “I’ve played for England since I was 15, and since then I’ve been playing for them every camp, abroad, and national games,” she said with pride. “It was crazy because I was so young, and to even realize I could play for like Arsenal and Chelsea, and then to get called up for your country? it was a very big deal. It was something that switched for me, I was like, I wanna do this for the rest of my life. I wanna play football.“
Lexi joins a talented recruiting class heading to Mobile, Alabama. Other girls in her group are bringing experience from Valencia CF, Celtic, and even Club América, so you know USA is serious about their women’s soccer program.
You can keep tabs on Lexi’s journey by following her on instagram. She quickly became a force in the youth ranks in England and I’m positive she’ll establish her talents quickly in South Alabama.
Photo: Cover photo provided by Lexi Lloyd-Smith