January 5, 2011
END OF AN ERA
After a record 352 international matches, Lilly retires at 39
There will be no sixth Women's World Cup for Kristine Lilly.
|Kristine Lilly is retiring after 24 years with the U.S. National Team
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
After more than two decades of playing and a world-record 352 international appearances, Lilly announced her retirement from soccer on Wednesday.
The 39-year-old Lilly accomplished just about everything one can in soccer, including playing for two WWC champions and two Olympic gold-medal teams. She participated in five WWCs and three Olympic tournaments. She finishes with 130 international goals, second only to Mia Hamm in U.S. and world history. Her 105 assists are also second to Hamm.
The Wilton, Conn. native is the only player to have played in the first five WWCs. She scored in every world championship tournament she played, except her first, the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup when she was 20-years-old.
Lilly also played for both incarnations of the Boston Breakers in the Women's United Soccer Association and Women's Professional Soccer.
“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,” Lilly said in a statement. “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.”
Lilly is the only player to perform for the U.S. in four decades and is both the youngest and oldest player to score a goal for the U.S. She is also the oldest player ever to earn a cap by more than three years over long-time teammate Joy Fawcett.
“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,” Lilly said. “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 U.S. qualify for the 2011 WWC in Germany.
“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.”
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, who has been involved with the federation for Lilly's entire career, praised the veteran.
“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,” he said in a statement. “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, 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 to debut for the U.S. when she started against China on Aug. 3, 1987, at 16 years, 12 days. She scored her first career goal in her second cap 10 days later. 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 was named U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year three times with the first award coming in 1993 and, remarkably, two more 12 and 13 years later (in 2005 and 2006). Lilly finishes as the country'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.