After 24 years representing the U.S. Women’s National Team, Kristine Lilly has announced her professional retirement. Throughout her successful career, Lilly earned 352 caps for the national team and scored 130 goals. ussoccer.com caught up with Lilly to discuss her career, legacy and what’s next for the ‘Queen of Caps’.
ussoccer.com: Hello and welcome to the special Kristine Lilly retirement podcast. We never thought the day would come but it is here. Kristine, after 24 years wearing the national team jersey, you are in fact hanging up the cleats. Congratulations are in order for a wonderful career.
Kristine Lilly: “Thank you very much. It’s crazy, but it’s time. I feel good about it.”
ussoccer.com: When you think back to that 16 year-old-girl who played her first game in 1987, can you talk about how your experience on the soccer field helped shape you as a person and now a mom?
KL: “It’s amazing. In 1987, you’re 16-years-old; you’re clueless of what’s going on around you. You get asked to go on a trip to China, you don’t even know where that is and then you end up playing for over 20 years on the team and being part of so many great things. In the beginning, I didn’t really know what it meant to be on the national team and now leaving it, it’s an honor. Every time I had the opportunity to put that jersey on was an honor and it felt great.”
ussoccer.com: Now did you truly not know where China was when you were 16?
KL: “[Laughing] You know, I think I knew where it was. It’s huge so how could you miss it? When I was 16, I got asked to join the national team and I was like, ‘Well I have to ask my parents first.’ So I had to go ‘Mom and Dad, can I go to China on a trip?’ and they said, ‘Sure.’”
ussoccer.com: You’ve always said good genetics helped you play this long which is certainly true and somehow you’ve avoided any major injuries in your career which is another amazing thing but can you talk about the mentality that was needed to play this long at this high of a level?
KL: “I think when you get to this level you want to remain there, so you find a way to continue to compete and continue to keep your spot or try to gain a spot. In the early years we had to do so much training on our own. We didn’t get together as frequently with the national team as they do now, so we were doing a lot of training on our own. So you’re always thinking about what you’re other teammates were doing and making sure you were ready once we got called into camp because you didn’t want to distract the team by not being ready. That was one of the first mentalities I had, making sure I was always fit and ready to go at the camp. You used each other to motivate each other and to encourage each other. That pretty much set the tone for me. My fitness has pretty much been the backbone of my career.”
ussoccer.com: That’s part of the great legacy you’ve left to the current players. You’re the last of the “Fab 5” to retire, only Christie Rampone from the 1999 World Cup team remains on the National Team. You have to feel you’re leaving this team in good hands.
KL: “Yes, the opportunity I’ve had to play with so many different players and now I’ve enjoyed playing with these younger players coming in who are very talented and coming off the Olympic win in ’08. Now our big quest is this summer to regain that World Cup title back and I know the team is going to work their butt off and I know they’re going to fight for that one. Christie Rampone is the captain and the team is in good hands there and they will come together to bring home the championship.”
ussoccer.com: I’m assuming you’re not going to miss people coming up to you and saying ‘Did you know that Alex Morgan was born after you earned your first cap for the national team?’ and ‘Did you know that Joy Fawcett’s daughter is closer in age to you than you are to the youngest player on the national team?’
KL: “[Laughing] Those always made me laugh and made me feel good in a sense because it means I’ve been doing something right and being able to play for so long on the team, I’m happy I’ve gotten to do that. But I’m also happy with the next stage of my life and being home and continuing our family and working with kids in camps and writing a book and doing all this fun stuff and seeing friends and all of that so that’s something I’m looking forward to as well.”
ussoccer.com: Was it fun playing with players that were maybe 10 or 15 years younger than you for so long?
KL: “It was interesting. What’s so great about this whole process, one of the things, is I remember being so young and looking up to these older players and now to reverse that and having hopefully the young players look up to me it’s just a cool process to be at one end of the spectrum and then the other at the end.”
ussoccer.com: We know it’s near impossible to pick your favorite moments from your career, but what are a few?
KL: “[The World Cup] in ’99, you can never not put that in the top ten. That summer was amazing in every aspect, not only winning but just how we captured America and our fans and created new fans as well. For me, my first World Cup, my first trip, those are milestones. The 2004 Olympics was pretty special because it was right when those three, Mia, Joy and Jules were retiring. I can remember being on that field and saying, ‘I don’t want to leave the field.’ The 2000 Olympics, losing in that one was tough just because we lost to Norway in the final and we played so great. It’s one of those games that you do everything you possibly can but you don’t win that one. I do remember that and I think that fired us up for the next Olympics. From the World Cup to now just with the new group, new faces on the team and building a team to capture another World Cup. There’s just been so many wonderful things but the things that stand out the most besides all of the games was just the locker room with the girls, the friendships I’ve made and being able to play with people I care about, that’s been amazing.”
ussoccer.com: We’ve joked about how you’ve had a hard time remembering all of the places and games you’ve been to, it’s been so long. What will you remember the most? Is it the wins, is it the losses, is it the players and the interactions? What sticks with you the most?
KL: “You remember a lot of it, but when I’m with my friends and my teammates from the past we don’t sit there and talk about, ‘Do you remember when we beat so and so?’, we usually talk about ‘Do you remember in the locker room when Foudy did this?’ or ‘Do you remember in the locker room when Michelle did this?’. Those are the things you tend to talk about. You don’t talk about the wins and losses. You talk about the fun things that happened between each other and sharing your lives pretty much. Soccer is just a vehicle between all of us getting to know each other. It’s the off field stuff that you miss the most.”
ussoccer.com: You walk away with 352 caps and 130 goals. Do you like the nickname the ‘Queen of Caps’?
KL: “[Laughing] I don’t mind, it beats Grandma.”
ussoccer.com: Speaking of Grandma or Mom, your daughter Sidney is still a baby but in a few years she is going to start playing soccer probably on a team, if she does what kind of soccer mom are you going to be on the sidelines?
KL: “[Laughing] I hope I’m not the crazy soccer Mom or the crazy soccer parents but it’s hard because parents want so much for their kids and they want them to do so well. I think I’ll chill back a little bit, who knows I’ll probably be dragged into coaching. I hope that if she’s playing soccer that she loves it. If she’s doing something else that she just loves it. I know that she won’t remember that I played, but for me I can remember the moments coming off the field and seeing her and those are great for me.”
ussoccer.com: There’s been a lot of people to support you throughout your career. You certainly can’t name them all but what are some final words for the people that supported you over the years, through the 24 years you’ve been playing at this level?
KL: “I think it’s everyone from U.S. Soccer to the Boston Breakers to my family and friends to sponsors, mainly to the fans. The fans only get to see us do our job and maybe here and there get the opportunity to meet us and really get a feel for who we are, but they’re the ones that keep us going and they’re the ones who’ve sent me great emails or letters or shared similar things that I like that they like so those are the things that connect me to the outside world. Their support has been amazing. It’s made me feel special and it says a lot when you get it from people you don’t even know. I thank all of those people. I’m really fortunate to have played for so long for the national team, played professional soccer, played at college at the University of North Carolina, played in my hometown at Park and Rec leagues. I’ve been so fortunate because of this game and I just want to thank everyone.”
ussoccer.com: Kristine Lilly everyone certainly would like to thank you as well for a wonderful career. You’ve done so much for the game and for the U.S. Women’s National Team and will continue to do so for the game of soccer I’m sure. Kristine Lilly, the ‘Queen of Caps’, hanging ‘em up after 24 years and a truly historic career. Kristine thanks for the memories. It certainly was a fantastic ride.
KL: “Thank you so much.”