Thirteen-year-old Grace Melillo plays for the Medford Strikers Soccer Club in South Jersey. Off the field, she cheers for Team USA in the Women’s World Cup. She’s a fan of one player in particular — two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA player of the year Carli Lloyd, who at age 16 played for the same club Melillo does now.
It’s where Lloyd first met the man who would go on to become her mentor and personal coach, James Galanis, who is still the technical director for the club.
“Knowing that she was taught by the same coaches that are teaching us, maybe that could make us one of the best players in the world, too,” said player Maddie Whalen.
Whalen says Lloyd comes back to help at practice and also gives motivational talks. It’s one of the main reasons why Bianca Anghelache joined the program this season.
“Hearing about how Carli, like, mentors her soccer players and I thought it was a really good program,” said Anghelache. “I read her book and I really thought her persistence with kind of how she deals with struggles and stuff like that was really good and I wanted to influence myself in that way.”
“She really inspires a lot of girls, and I want to be like that when I’m older,” said Melillo.
Her influence on South Jersey, where she still lives, can be felt all around. Not far away in Marlton, the Blue Barn, where Lloyd has practiced, named a court in her honor in 2015. In her hometown of Delran, many at a local pub say they watch the games to support the forward.
“I think it’s wonderful because she worked very hard at it. I followed her when she was in high school,” said Cinnaminson Township resident Tom Tumelty.
“It’s unbelievable. Just to see someone from the area make it to the level that she’s at right now, it’s incredible,” said Mark Penkala, Mount Lauren resident.
Lloyd’s brother-in-law James Gonteski said she’s a hard worker.
“She’s a Jersey Girl,” he said. “These are her roots and she’s a very humble person.”
It’s a message repeated from people who live in the area, including Medford Strikers coach Moussa Issa.
“It’s rewarding to see such a humble and dedicated soccer player be at the top of her game and at the top of the women’s soccer world because of the things she does consistently off the field,” Issa said. “The way that she’s loyal to the club and loyal to the environment that helped her become who she is on the soccer field.”
Despite being a veteran soccer player with a billboard in New York City, admired by people around the world, it’s clear Lloyd hasn’t forgot where she came from.