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Saturday, July 14, is Kristine Lilly Day in Connecticut

Saturday, July 14, has been declared “Kristine Lilly Day” in the State of Connecticut by Governor M. Jodi Rell, an appropriate honor for the Wilton, Conn., native as she returns home to captain the U.S. against Norway in what may be her last appearance in a National Team uniform in the Constitution State. U.S. Soccer will honor Lilly in a pre-game ceremony for her amazing achievements and for reaching 300 caps, a summit never before scaled by a soccer player. With an other-worldly 327 career caps, and 123 career international goals, Lilly was just named to her record fifth Women’s World Cup Team. As she prepares to face long-time rival Norway for the 31st time in her legendary 20-year career, Lilly spoke with about numerous topics, including her return home, her move to forward under head coach Greg Ryan, the next generation of young players and her place in the pantheon of U.S. players. Also: Quotes from U.S. head coach Greg Ryan on the U.S. captain.

On her move to forward with the National Team under Greg Ryan:
“It’s great. I love midfield playing, I love anywhere I have played, but at this stage it has been fun to be up front, it’s been fun to be closer to the goal and to make things happen. I have played forward full time now for the last two and a half years, but I’ve played it so much in my career. In college I played forward and with the National Team, Tony (DiCicco) actually threw me up there a lot throughout the years so I have played there, I’m comfortable there. Now I am just more of a regular up there, and it has been great. It’s great to be closer to the goal, it’s great to be involved and getting the ball a lot and now my job is to score, so if I don’t, then I know I’m not doing my job.”

On the benefits of playing up top:
“In a sense, it has given me a new look and a new mentality as well. I don’t just sprint up and down the field all game long. Now it is sprinting, but also controlling the ball with pressure on my back, getting the ball in front of the goal and finishing instead of just rushing up the field. I love playing with Abby (Wambach) up there, with (Lindsay) Tarpley and Heather (O’Reilly) and Tasha (Kai), and I think we have done pretty well together.”

On her teammates saying she does the little things well:
“Hopefully, what I take from that is that I am making an impact and I am still doing the things you are supposed to do. That has been, I think, the way I have played my whole career. I have made sure I’ve done the work I am supposed to do, just do my job wherever it may be on the field. You know, people joke about me saying I am just doing my job, but I am. We are all doing our work here and if we do it the best that we can individually, then as a team I think we will be successful.”

On the secret to her longevity:
“I don’t know if I have a secret, my grandma lived to be about 92 and she never had a driver’s license and just walked everywhere, so I bet I have some of her genes. But also, you know, if you look at the girls who retired two years ago they had careers of 17 or 18 years. I think when we started with the team we didn’t know anything about it, we were young, and then it became our life. We have committed ourselves to it. This team has been the most important thing in my life until I met my husband, but it has been the first priority. Everything we did was to make this team the best it can be. With our training, I make sure I am always fit. Fitness is a huge thing for me, if I am fit, all the other stuff I feel I can get back in a week or so. I make sure I never get below a certain level. It’s just easier to stay in shape than get back into shape.”

On being back in her home state:
“It is great to be back in my home state of Connecticut…I get to see Tony (DiCicco), our old coach, and my family and friends are going to come to the game. We played China here at Rentschler Field before we headed off to Athens in 2004 and we had a great send off game. To know that we are coming back here on Saturday and playing, this being the fourth of all the games left before the Women’s World Cup, it will be a great send off from Connecticut for this team.”

On the team team’s development over the past few years heading into the WWC:
“During the last two and a half years that we’ve been working together, they have been working extremely hard, they have been playing well and we are getting closer to the World Cup. For me, right now, this team is ready to compete. Their faces are getting recognized and we need to share them with our country and let them know who is representing them now because they are great people, they are great players and have the commitment to do their best.”

On how her soon-to-be 36-year-old body is feeling:
“I feel good today! It is a great day for you to ask that question, I feel great! I feel good, you know, I think the one thing that has changed in my training as you get older is now I take a couple more days off. I still train hard but I need a couple days more of recovery, so that is the big difference.”

On her life plan after her retirement:
“I don’t even want to retire, so I don’t even have a plan right now….There are a lot of factors that will come into play, mostly how I feel physically and mentally, if my heart is in the game. My husband and I want to have a family so we will decide what is the best time for that, but mainly if it’s not in my heart anymore, that is going to be a sign that maybe it’s time.”

On if she will play in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing:
“The only time I think about it is when you guys ask. My teammates keep saying that I am playing in the Olympics, so their minds are already set. But really, I don’t think about it. I know retirement is closer than farther away for me, and I am not going to play another World Cup, that I know for sure, so it’s obviously probably the Olympics, and then we will see. But with the (new pro) league coming back, that adds a new twist to things. I would love to play in the league for a couple of years and end my career at home and be at home, and just travel for road games.”

On the transition to getting recognition for the new, young players:
“Each time there is a World Cup or Olympics, there is always a transition on the team. In the past, there has always been five players that have been there, now there is just me from the original team, but you’ve got Kate Markgraf, Christie Rampone, and Briana Scurry. Bri’s on her fourth World Cup and Kate and Christie are on their third and they are familiar faces. We still want to sell the national team, but now with the new faces, our job is to win because I think winning brings attention. We want the young people to connect with Carli Lloyd, Cat Whitehill, with Lindsay Tarpley, Heather O’Reilly. We want young kids to be saying, ‘I like Stephanie Lopez, she’s my favorite player’. That is the next stage because these players are great, they’re great people, and everyone has a personality different from everyone else on the team, just like the old teams. Now, it’s just getting acquainted with the new face.”

On what she wants to be remembered for:
“I don’t think any of us want to be remembered for just one thing. Hopefully, I’ve made a bigger impact than just one thing and I think when I look back at the career, I’ve had great moments and we’ve done great things with this team. Hopefully the work I’ve put into it has made an impact, and that means that if you put your time in and dedicate yourself great things can happen. This is my 20th year on the National Team and I am proud of the years, and I am proud to say that I was on the field most of the time during that time too.”

On some saying she is the best U.S. player ever:
“I always appreciate good things from teammates and coaches, the people that play with you or are around you, but I think when you look at this team and the players that have come through, I don’t even want to be compared to Michelle (Akers). She is one of the greatest players I have ever seen play. She did things that I could never do, and I could do things she could never do. Mia (Hamm) could do things I couldn’t do and vice versa. So I think when you look at it as a whole, to be on this team is to be in a great position and to be around greatness, and I think that is an honor in itself.”


On Saturday being Kristine Lilly Day in Connecticut and U.S. Soccer honoring her pre-game:
“I think it is fantastic. It’s in her home state and she is going to be honored and I think for Kristine Lilly, a person that has given so much to the sport, we are just always happy when people recognize what she has done.”

On Kristine Lilly’s longevity:
“I think one thing you see in players that last a long time is they are players that have really taken care of their bodies and she is exceptional in that area. She knows how to train her body, she doesn’t over-train, she knows when to rest and when to get after it. So I think fitness is a huge part, but some of that I think you have to say ‘look, this is genetic’ and she is an amazing athlete.”

On what Lilly’s leadership has meant to the U.S. team:
“It’s been essential. I really believe Kristine is the cornerstone for this young team, the foundation on which we have built this young team. She has been a great mentor and leader, she leads by example, she really teaches these young players what it means to be a great player for this Women’s National Team. I think the success of this team and the rapid maturation and development of the young players has really been built upon Kristine’s leadership.”

On his moving Lilly to forward:
“She was a forward in college and scored a ton of goals, and then when the U.S. team played a 4-4-2 it made sense to put her back in the midfield. But when we really looked at these players and said we really look more like a 4-3-3 team, we put Kristine up there she started producing right off the bat. It wasn’t like we had to work at it or something. She’s just a natural goal scorer and the more you get her up the field closer to the goal, the more goals she scores.”