In a surprising result, Carli Lloyd was named the Best FIFA Women’s Player of 2016 on Monday, beating out Marta and Melanie Behringer. The result – voted on by team captains, coaches and journalists from all of FIFA’s member nations – is surprising because, well, Lloyd probably wasn’t the actual best player of the year.
To be clear: Lloyd did have a good year. She finished 2016 with 17 goals and 11 assists in 21 USA games, plus five goals and three assists in seven games for the Houston Dash. But when taking a wider view of the field competing against Lloyd for the award, it seems more like Lloyd is still riding the success of her spectacular 2015, and there are several candidates who could’ve easily taken the award instead.
In U.S. Soccer’s annual awards, Lloyd wasn’t even considered the best American player – that honor went to Tobin Heath, who was excellent through the Olympics and helped the Portland Thorns secure the NWSL Shield. Her creative, technical style of play was consistently some of the best in the world. Crystal Dunn, who was also great in the Olympics and led the Washington Spirit to the NWSL final, was runner-up. The votes came from national team coaches, national team players, NWSL coaches, journalists and former players.
When it comes to the FIFA women’s award, voters tend to ignore club play and focus on the international level. But even looking at the summer’s Olympics in Rio – a marquee international tournament for the women – it’s doubtful Lloyd was the best player there.
Behringer of Germany was Rio’s leading goal-scorer with five goals en route to a gold medal, and Marta of Brazil was one of the most dynamic players there, carrying a relatively weak Brazil side to the third-place match. Christine Sinclair of Canada, who made the initial shortlist, led Canada to a surprise bronze medal.
But if you take club play into consideration – as the award really should – Ada Hegerberg of Norway is an obvious favorite after she dominated for Norway and Olympique Lyonnais all year. Hegerberg didn’t even make the shortlist, although she was named UEFA’s female player of the year. Dzsenifer Marozsan, who had a strong Olympics for Germany and an even better season for Lyon, made the initial list and arguably should’ve been a finalist too.
None of this is to say that Lloyd wasn’t one of the best players in the world in 2016. She certainly was, and it was her aggressive play that kept the Americans going in a somewhat rocky group stage of the Rio Olympics. But the Americans ultimately got knocked out in the quarterfinals for their worst tournament finish ever, and the vast majority of her goals for the U.S. this year came against very weak opponents in friendlies. She missed so much time with the Houston Dash this season, that it’s difficult to put much stock in her club play, even if it was excellent.
Lloyd is the fourth women’s player to win in consecutive years, a habit that seems borne out of many voters not following women’s soccer all that closely. Once a player is on the radar, they tend to stay on – Marta has been a finalist for the award nine consecutive years, even in years when she was injured much of the time and didn’t achieve very much.
Nonetheless, Lloyd is the winner and will go down as the best player of 2016. It’s difficult to argue she didn’t deserve to be in consideration for the award, even if her getting the trophy will spark some deserved debate. But hey, her 2015 was so spectacular, maybe we can chalk it up to being worth double.