Kudos to U.S. soccer legend Kristine LIlly for calling it a day while she’s still got game. After 352 appearances for the national team, one of the most beloved figures in the history of women’s soccer anounced she is retiring.
The 5-foot-4-inch midfielder hangs up her boots at age 39 as perhaps the game’s most accomplished player and certainly one of the most successful and decorated female athletes in U.S. history. She played in five FIFA Women’s World Cups (the only woman to do so) and three Olympic Games, helping the USA win four of those tournaments, finishing second once and third three times. Lilly scored in every world championship tournament she played, except her first, the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup when she was 20 years old.
She is the only player to appear for the United States in four different decades and is both the youngest and oldest player to ever score a goal for the USA. She is also the oldest player ever to earn a cap by more than three years over long-time teammate Joy Fawcett.
“The thing that has been so great for me in making this decision is that I’m in such a good place with my life and soccer,” said Lilly. “When I look back at everything I’ve been a part of, it’s been great. There are no regrets. The opportunities I’ve had to play with so many great players and be a part of so many great moments has been amazing. There are so many people who have supported me through my journey and I really want to thank the U.S. Soccer Federation for their support of women’s soccer, the Boston Breakers, the sponsors and the fans for giving me the opportunity to live out my dreams for the past twenty-four years.”
- Watch Studio 90 | Listen to Podcast with Lilly | Quotes
- Lilly’s Top 13: Things to Do | Achievements | Moments | Goals | Stats
- Kristine Lilly: All 352 Caps | Lilly By The Numbers | Legendary Moments
Lilly, who played most of her career on the left flank but also saw time at forward in the middle of the 2000s, was the second-youngest player ever to debut for the USA when she started against China on Aug. 3, 1987, at the age of 16 years, 12 days. She scored her first career goal in her second cap 10 days later. She would go on to represent her country 352 times, by far a world record for women or men and a mark possibly never to be equaled. Lilly, nicknamed “The Queen of Caps,” has been the world’s most capped female player since 1998 when she earned her 152nd cap against Japan on May 21 in Kobe, Japan, passing Norway’s Heidi Stoere.
She finishes her career with 130 international goals, second only to Mia Hamm in U.S. and world history. Her 105 career assists are also second in the U.S. record book to Hamm.
“Kristine Lilly has been an integral part of our women’s soccer history, a great ambassador for the game and a tremendous role model for young players in the United States,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “Her accomplishments speak for themselves, but her lasting legacy will be one of a player totally dedicated to the team and doing whatever it took on and off the field to produce success. “
Lilly was named U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year three times during her career with the first award coming in 1993 and, remarkably, two more 12 and 13 years later, coming back-to-back in 2005 and 2006. Lilly finishes as the USA’s all-time leader in Women’s World Cup matches with 30 (along with eight career goals, tied for third all-time). She is tied with four others for most Olympic matches played with 16 while also scoring four times in those games.
Lilly helped inspire several generations of young female soccer players, including many of the players who broke into the national team during the past 10 years. As a member of the “Fab Five” along with Hamm, Julie Foudy, Fawcett and Brandi Chastain, Lilly helped bring women’s soccer into a new era while winning Olympic gold medals and Women’s World Cup titles. That run included the historic 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup held on home soil where the USA defeated China at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., in front of 90,185 fans, still the most ever to attend a women’s soccer match. She is the last of the “Fab Five” to retire, outlasting her contemporaries by a full six years.
That game at the Rose Bowl featured two of Lilly’s most memorable career moments when she headed a Chinese shot off the goal line in sudden death overtime and then nailed the USA’s crucial third penalty kick during the dramatic shootout after the Chinese had missed their third attempt.
Lilly also retires from professional club soccer, bidding goodbye to the Boston Breakers of the WPS, for whom she played the last two seasons, including every minute of all 20 games in 2009 during the inaugural season. Lilly also played three seasons for the Breakers in the WUSA from 2001-2003, playing 102 total matches for the club. Lilly was an All-Star and/or All-League in all five of her professional club seasons.
“I told myself I would take until the end of the year to make a decision after some time off so I wasn’t just retiring because of the long year and the fact that I was tired,” said Lilly, who finishes as the USA’s all-time leader in minutes played with 28,700. “I’m just at the point in my life with my family and career where it was the right time. I never knew what the right time was going to feel like, but I finally got there.”
Lilly returned to the national team in 2010 for one final run, helping the USA qualify for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. She played in 10 matches last year for the national team, starting three, and scored her final career goal against Germany on May 22 in Cleveland, Ohio.
“When I sit here and realize that it’s been 23 or 24 years since I started playing at this level, when I think about those numbers it does seem like a really long journey,” Lilly said. “But the best thing is that I’ve had the opportunity in the last five or 10 years to really appreciate the impact we’ve made not only on the field, but off the field with young people as well and I’m really happy I was able to be a part of this for so long.”
Lilly, who hails from the small town of Wilton, Conn., led Wilton High School to three state titles. Lilly won the 1991 Hermann Trophy and Missouri Athletic Club Player of the Year for the University of North Carolina, where she helped lead the Tar Heels to four consecutive NCAA titles. The four-time All-American scored 78 goals with 41 assists in her college career and had her jersey No. 15 retired in 1994 by North Carolina.
Lilly married Dave Heavey, a Boston fireman, in 2006 and in 2008 gave birth to daughter Sidney. She plans to stay involved in soccer through her TeamFirst soccer camps with former teammates Hamm and Tisha Venturini, through clinics and speaking appearances. She will of course also continue to run the Kristine Lilly Soccer Academy in her hometown.
“I am looking forward to spending some time with my family, writing a book and doing camps with Mia and Tish,” said Lilly. ”It’s great to team up with old teammates and friends and who have the same philosophies of trying to teach kids soccer and giving back to the game which has given us so much.”
Lilly’s retirement leaves just two players from USA’s 1999 Women’s World Cup Team still active in professional soccer in current U.S. captain Christie Rampone and forward Tiffeny Milbrett.
Kristine Lilly Additional Career Notes
- Lilly played her entire career free of any major injuries.
- During her career Lilly played against 39 different countries, scored against 30 different countries, played in 23 countries and scored in 16 countries.
- She served as captain of the USA from 2005-2007 and played for five U.S. Women’s National Team head coaches during her tenure.
- Lilly did not play in the 2008 Olympics, stepping away from the game to have a daughter Sidney who was born on July 22, Lilly’s birthday.
- From 1991 through 2007, Lilly played more than 1,200 minutes every year for the national team except for 1994 (just missed by 30 minutes), 2001, when the USA played only 10 matches, and in 2005, when the USA played only nine. The streak ended with her pregnancy in 2008.
- She also holds the U.S. record for most consecutive starts at 62.
- She became the first and perhaps the last player to hit 300 caps, earning her 300th against Norway at the Four Nations Tournament in China on Jan. 16, 2006, in a game in which she scored and had an assist.
- Lilly became the first player in history, man or woman, to play in 200 career internationals when she played against Canada in the championship of the Nike U.S. Women’s Cup on May 7, 2000 in Portland, Ore.
- Through the end of 2007, Lilly had played in 85 percent of the games the U.S. women had ever played.
- She started 330 of her 352 games, coming off the bench just 22 times in her 24-year career, and seven of those appearances as a sub came in 2010.
- She was named as a finalist for FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year several times in her career and in 2006 she finished second in the voting.
- Lilly, who also had two stints in the Swedish First Division in 1994 and 2005, played professional men’s indoor soccer with the Washington Warthogs in the Continental Indoor Soccer League in 1995.