U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Kristine Lilly has announced her retirement after a 24-year career. Lilly, who is the most capped player in all of U.S. Soccer with 352 appearances, played in five FIFA World Cups and recently played for the USWNT during the World Cup qualifiers. She scored her final and 130th international goal on May 22, 2010, in a game against Germany.
The 39-year-old Lilly played for the Boston Breakers of both the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) and Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS). In 2009 with the Breakers, she played every minute of the team’s 20 games, logging a total of 1,800 minutes. In two seasons with the WPS Breakers, Lilly played in 43 games (42 starts, 3,725 minutes) and scored six goals to go along with six assists. In the playoffs with Boston last season, Lilly assisted on Lauren Cheney’s goal in a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Independence in the WPS Super Semifinal, which proved to be her final game as a Breaker.
Players from around the world are talking to Our Game about Lilly.
“Lil was always a hero of mine growing up,” said USWNT and WNY Flash midfielder Yael Averbuch. “She was part of the generation of women who paved the way for all of us. Having the opportunity to play alongside her was a great honor, and I was able to learn a lot from her experience, passion, and leadership. I feel very fortunate to have been able to watch and play with such a soccer legend.”
Leslie Osborne, who played with Lilly both on the USWNT and with the Boston Breakers, talked about how much Lilly was an influence to more than just the players on her teams.
“She was my role model growing up and then became my teammate, good friend, and mentor,” Osborne said. “She has a lot to do with paving the way for me to live my dream, along with thousands of other girls. She will be missed dearly, on and off the field. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to be her teammate for the U.S. team and co-captain with her for the Breakers. I learned so much from her and will continue to. She is a legend in so many ways.”
Boston Breakers midfielder Jordan Angeli grew up watching Lilly play for the USWNT and looked to her as a role model.
“Lil was a pioneer of women’s soccer. She paved the way for all us girls who grew up dreaming of playing professional soccer,” Angeli said. “Boys I knew growing up were dreaming to become Michael Jordan, while the girls, including me, dreamed of becoming Kristine Lilly. She is a legend. Her passion, work ethic, knowledge, and love for the game will be something all soccer fans will forever remember.
“Being a teammate of Lil’s was a dream come true. I can’t emphasize that enough!,” Angeli added. “She has set a high standard in my mind of how a pro trains day in and day out. I learned so much from her on a daily basis because she is always teaching the game. From giving me insights into how to solve certain situations on the field to helping me deal with life as a professional athlete to helping me grow into a better person. I will forever be grateful for the year I got to say, ‘I played on Kristine Lilly’s team.’ She will be greatly missed on the field, but she better keep calling me for those babysitting jobs! Love you Lil.”
Tiffany Weimer played alongside Lilly last year in Boston and had this to say about her former teammate: “Everyone always has an idea of what a professional athlete is supposed to be … I know I had my idea. But I didn’t really see what one actually looked like until I saw Lil. She came to training, beat the world in the beep test, performed in games, led as a captain and more importantly, even with her age difference, was one of the girls. She did all this while being an incredible role model and a wife and mother. All that she did before speaks for itself. It’s just admirable and something I’m glad I could see for myself.”
Breakers defender Kasey Moore added: “I remember being 11 years old during the 1999 WWC and seeing Lil clearing that ball off the goal line like it was yesterday. I never imagined I would be able to be teammates with one of my childhood idols, but I am so thankful for the opportunity. Lil has shown everyone in the soccer world how things should be done both on and off the field and is the true definition of a legend.”
WPS keeper Meagan McCray (2010 Washington Freedom, 2009 FC Gold Pride) talks about the time she first saw Lilly: “Kristine Lilly was an inspiration from the first day I saw her play to the moment when I listened to her speak and demo in front of a group of players at a U15 Youth National Team Camp in Deerfield, Mass. She was incredibly friendly, and I remember thinking, ‘I want to be like her one day.’ I never thought I’d be playing against her in the WPS! Congrats, Lilly, and thank you for everything you’ve done for women’s soccer.”
Boston Breakers defender Rachel Buehler, Lilly’s USWNT teammate, added: “Kristine Lilly is an amazing player, person, and role model to us all. Playing with her over the last year has been a privilege. Before each game, after we do our warm up, she runs around and gives every single player on the team a high five. That is Lil … always putting the team first and encouraging everyone.”
Swedish Women’s National Team midfielder Caroline Seger, who played against Lilly both in WPS and on the international level, called Lilly, “An amazing soccer player that made a huge difference for women’s soccer all over the world. I wish her best of luck in her life outside soccer.”
Australian Women’s National Team Coach Tom Sermanni talked about Lilly, who he coached against on both the national level and in the WUSA. “Ageless,” Sermanni said. “Maintained the same high energy levels and outstanding performances during the closing years of her career as she did at what would be considered her peak. Played with passion, sportsmanship and a smile on her face. A great role model for both young aspiring soccer players and seasoned internationals. The consummate professional who’ll be greatly missed on the field and in the dressing room.”
Photo credit: Ryan Wood