US SoccerUS Soccer

Words from the Wise: Kristine Lilly Meets Boston Media

In advance of the U.S. WNT’s first domestic match of 2007, against Mexico (tickets) at Gillete Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. on April 14, U.S. captain Kristine Lilly, a Boston resident, spoke with members of the Boston media via a conference call on April 2 during Media Day for the New England Revolution. The USA’s clash with Mexico is the opening game of a doubleheader also featuring the Revs vs. Toronto FC.

Lilly’s opening comments

Lilly: “Hi everyone. The past two years, coming off the 2004 Olympics and getting ready for the World Cup, we’ve had a big transition with a number of players retiring. We’ve had a lot of players step up and they did a great job of fitting in with the team in making a difference. This year is huge for us because it’s the World Cup year. We finally have something to play for having not played in the States since November when we had (World Cup) qualifiers. We are excited to start our eight game road trip to China in Boston and I’m obviously excited because I live there and played for the (Boston) Breakers there and obviously pairing up with the Revolution for their opener, as well, is going to be a great day for the Boston area.”

Q: You mentioned you’re exited after all these years. Why are you still excited?

Lilly: “I love the game. I love being part of the National Team and, for me, another World Cup is something I want to win. We lost in 2003, so my goal is to win the World Cup back with this team. I always bet on the U.S. team and if we play great soccer, good things have always happened. I think for me, I just love still playing and (the prospect of winning) a World Cup right now will be something that will keep me going in this game.”

Q: Just to follow up, and I say this out of respect, we all lose our step over time. First, do you feel that you have lost a step, and, if so how do you compensate for that?

Lilly: “It’s an interesting question. It’s funny because I get all these questions like, ‘When are you going to retire?’ and so on, and to me, it’s going to happen sooner or later. But right now, I don’t necessarily think I’ve lost a step. Being a part of this team for almost 20 years now, my experience has taught me so much and I think that experience maybe covers up for anything I’m lacking. Overall, with this young team, we have so many young players that are doing all the dirty work and running all over the field and doing the grunt work. It’s a team that’s going to win together whether I’m on, Abby’s (Wambach’s) on, Carli’s (Lloyd) on, Christie Rampone’s on, or someone else is picking up the slack. It’s a team that can win championships... I can see us working together ready to win.”

Q: Are you surprised at how you’ve been able to succeed with all of the titles you’ve won over the past 12 months or so with the changeover that’s been on the roster?

Lilly: “No, I’m not surprised. I think what happens with this new team is that people don’t recognize faces. They’re like, ‘Hey, Mia Hamm’s not out there or Julie Foudy,’ but the players that have come in, a lot of them played on the Under-20 team and won world championships together. Several players have been part of championship teams so they have that mentality. (Head coach) Greg (Ryan) has done a great job of blending these players together that have been a part of championships and players that haven’t been. You know, just by putting us together and letting us play the game, I think we’ve done a great job and I think it’s due to the effort that the players have given and it’s not surprising to me at all.”

Q: How different has Greg Ryan’s regime been, or has it just been slight tinkering?

Lilly: “Well, I think with Greg, when he came and took over, he was taking over a position after April (Heinrichs) won a gold medal, and you know that’s a hard feat to follow. I think what he’s done is come in and said, ‘Hey, you know we have a new team, whether we have new players or old players it doesn’t matter and we are going to start here.’ He just went out and let us play. He’s like, ‘Here you go, here’s the ball, let’s play,’ which I think was great because it made our players relax and just play the game. It brought us to where we are now being more tactical and organized. And in competing, we’re ranked No. 1 in the world again and I think that has to do with what he’s done.”

Q: Some people may have looked at WUSA’s folding as a negative, but do you think maybe, from the national team’s point of view, it’s been a positive because you do spend so much time together now? You play so many games together not playing for a club but in the national team uniform.

Lilly: “You know, it is. I mean Residency (Camp) is a small league and it’s hard to say whether having a league is better or worse for the national team. I think in general, having a league is better for soccer and better for people to see us play more, but whatever opportunity lays out there for us we have to take control of. The past couple years since the league’s been gone we’ve been in a Residency program and it has been great. Obviously, there has been news out that the league is coming back next year and that’s also exciting because I think it’s great to have more players have the opportunity to play at a higher level and see if they can make the national team. I mean, Shannon Boxx and Abby Wambach are examples. Players that came out of the WUSA are now part of the national team so I think whatever is put out there before you, you take advantage of it, and right now we have the Residency program so we have this opportunity to train together for the World Cup in September.”

Q: The next step for you is the match against Mexico here in Foxborough. From a personal point of view, how nice is it to be able to come back and play in your home region and where a number of other players also have links?

Lilly: “It’s great! I’m so excited. We haven’t been back since we played China in 2004 – and that was in Hartford. We haven’t been back to Boston since the World Cup actually, so this is exciting for us as a team and for those of us who are locals. The Boston area has always had great crowds. Obviously, if you look at the Revolution fans they get to support their team constantly which is great. I’m looking forward to just being back in the area and the more people we get out to watch the women’s and men’s games the better. It just helps the sport grow and I think that’s what this will be about.”

Q: Is there extra pressure on the team this year to get back to the World Cup Championship?

Lilly: “I don’t think it’s different than any other year because the way we look at it and the way the teams have looked at it in past years. We play to be the best from friendly games to the World Cup and right now, our goal is to win. If we don’t, it’s disappointing for us. It’s not that there’s too much pressure; that’s just our goal. If you look at the 16 teams in the World Cup, they want to win the World Cup. That’s their goal and I think if this team continues to move in the pattern they have, and train hard and not sit on their laurels and keep combating against top teams in the world, we have a chance. And I look forward to the preparations for the World Cup in September.”

Q: You played with a very special group, arguably the best women’s team of all time. Your team exuded confidence every time you were out on the field. How is the chemistry with the new group? You seem like you haven’t missed a step in getting the results, but how’s the chemistry with the team?

Lilly: “The chemistry is great. It’s different. Obviously, I’m older so with all these young players, I’m learning things from them. But the thing that’s great is you can see the excitement in the young players’ eyes. I still have it, and I’ve been around the block a couple times and know what to expect, know what’s going to take place in the Residency and what the World Cup holds. To have that excitement from the young players and the innocence and just the heart that they have, it adds a little bit more spice. Obviously there are so many different personalities in that we are still getting to know each other more and more, but we’re blending together and we’re creating a team. If you look back at the teams in the past, each World Cup or Olympic team was different. There were a lot of familiar faces every year, but each team had its different personalities that made each team great. I think this is one of those teams that is going to be great, as well.”

Q: What about retirement?

Lilly: “You know, it’s going to happen. I can’t say exactly when and I don’t think I can prelude to anything, but right now it’s so important for me and the team this year to focus on the team and focus on this World Cup. After that we’ll see where things stand. I’m so committed to this team this year: training in these next four or five months, playing eight games in that space, starting off in Boston in April, showing our country again what a great team this is, bringing out these young players and starting to have them as familiar faces to our fans so now they can say, ‘Oh, I know this player and that player,’ that’s what our goal is: to keep promoting the game, keep moving forward, and keep trying to win the World Cup.”