Kristine Lilly, a USA legend and true women’s football pioneer, is one of a select group of stalwarts whose international career stretched over four different decades.
Between the years of 1987 and 2010, Lilly established herself as one of the best midfielders in the women’s game, racking up an unprecedented 352 caps, notching 105 assists and scoring 130 goals along the way - 28 shy of her iconic team-mate Mia Hamm. Over her 24-year career in international football, the Connecticut native played a staggering 28,700 minutes for the Stars and Stripes.
Having made her first appearance for USA at age 16, when she was still in high school, Lilly went on to win the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship four years in a row when she played for the University of North Carolina. A couple of years later, Lilly moved to Sweden to play a season with Tyreso before returning home in 1995 to play for Washington Warthogs, the only female team then competing in the male-dominated Continental Indoor Soccer League. Lilly experienced other highlights at club level, including multiple All-WUSA first team selections when she played for Boston Breakers, but her most memorable success came on the international stage.
A two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup™ winner, Lilly retired as USA’s most-capped player at the global showpiece. She played six matches in five different Women’s World Cups (China PR 1991, Sweden 1995, USA 1999 and 2003, and China 2007) for a total of 30 appearances. Lilly is also a three-time Olympian, with two gold medals (Atlanta 1996 and Athens 2004) and one silver (Sydney 2000) to show for her impressive efforts.
Having represented the United States at the top level with such success and distinction, it should not come as a surprise that the evergreen Lilly has served as a role model for several of the current stars playing for the red, white and blue. Among them is USA’s all-time leading goal scorer, Abby Wambach. “If there's one person in this team who speaks and everyone listens, it's Lil,” Wambach told FIFA.com prior to Lilly's retirement. “She's our woman of wisdom and she just epitomises everything about what a team player should be. I'm proud to have been able to have played with her for so long and I can say without doubt that it has made me a better player and a better person."
And while Lilly undoubtedly made an everlasting impact on women’s football – not only for the United States but for the game in general – her appreciation for what the game has done her is equally clear. “What I’m most grateful for was not just the soccer part, but that I met so many people and built lasting relationships with those people,” Lilly said at her induction ceremony to the National Soccer Hall of Fame. “That’s what I’m really grateful for. Playing soccer and putting that No13 jersey on made me feel at home. It’s something I will always be grateful for.”