Here’s how our conversation with Kristine Lilly kicked off.
TSG: Please correct me if I say anything wrong, I just started following the team and my goodness–your awards and accolades are flat-out amazing….and that’s a solid understatement.
Kristine Lilly: You can say I’m old, it’s okay.
Such was the humbleness from Kristine Lilly when TSG was able to touch base with the player her teammates’ call ‘Lill’ last week.
Kristine Lilly’s track record speaks for itself. Once a member of the holy triumvirate of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and herself, Lilly has gone on to play at the top of her profession for nearly a decade past two of U.S. Women’s Soccer most identifiable figures.
This week Lilly finds herself in Cancun, not on holiday, but called in to provide both leadership both on and off the pitch as the U.S. Women’s Team begins its World Cup 2011 qualifying campaign in Mexico.
When you talk to Lilly, you immediately sense a few things. One, she knows that you are struggling to ask her questions that somehow are unique about her past accomplishments.
Seriously, how many times can you ask someone, “Was it hard to become the active goals leader for the United States?”
Two–as we found out–she’s not going throw any of her teammates under the bus, even for fun…at least not to this novice Women’s Team reporter.
Beyond that, this was just business as usual in interviewing the–pardon the caps this statement deserves it–ALL-TIME INTERNATIONAL CAPS LEADER FOR BOTH MEN AND WOMEN.
Currently that number stands at 350.
That’s fairly ridiculous. I’m mean….seriously.
TSG: Hi, Kristine. Let’s jump in on the game that just finished. Just this week, the Women’s Team had their home unbeaten streak on the line late in Philadelphia. Was the team pressing to make sure the record remained untarnished?
KL: We don’t think about those things as a team. We were down 1-0. Our mentality was just to come back at this point. And we did that when Alex had that big goal.
TSG: That was Alex Morgan’s first goal for the National Team and you embraced her immediately afterward. Was it a moment of celebration or were you trying to give her some first hand perspective on her first National Team goal?
KL: Moment of celebration. The game wasn’t one of the best for our team.
And her coming off bench and scoring–it was pretty big for both her and us.
TSG: How do you prepare now when you head down to Mexico? Given that the U.S. Team should, pardon, “sail” through these qualifiers, do you take the games as a chance to practice what is preached or is it just all about winning each game?
KL: We don’t look at qualifiers like the media looks at qualifiers.
It’s going to be tough no matter what.
On any given day any team can win.
TSG: Isn’t there an expectation though that you’ll win by multiple goals? That’s my expectation…at least I think it is.
KL: We’re just focusing on each game and win.
TSG: Ok. Well I imagine I’ll being seeing few nail-biters next week…
Obviously winning in Germany next year is the big goal; do you consider the Germans the favorites?
KL: Anyone at the World Cup is going to be the competition. Whoever makes the World Cup is our competition. Germany, yes they’re hosting it, and that’ll help.
But, Germany, United States, Norway, France…
All these teams can it make happen. Whichever team is on form and playing well at the time has to be considered the favorite.
TSG: It’s weird for me to ask this following question, but…the Women’s National Team has not won a World Cup in over a decade and that’s considered a little disappointing. Weird for me to say because in covering the Men’s Team merely making it out of the group is considered a success by some.
Is there any scenario where the Women can come back from the World Cup, have a great tournament by some standards, not win, and it be considered a success?
KL: No, success is winning World Cup, and for the men I would imagine they have the same criteria for success as well.
Nothing less for us.
If you ask any person competing in anything they want to be champions.
We haven’t won since ’99.
We’re always one of the top teams in the world and we’ll always play like that.
TSG: Being one of the best teams in the world, is there more pressure because you haven’t won in so long?
KL: No, I don’t think there is. Each time we step on the field we expect to win.
Pressure is created more so by the outside world.
The mentality never changes going into the event.
There are only two of us on the team right now that are World Cup veterans. Everyone wants that feeling to win a World Cup next year.The goal is there in our mind.
TSG: This is your…rather this will be–if you get selected–your sixth World Cup–that’s ridiculous.
Are you ever going to give someone else a chance to play?
KL: <laughing> Players have chances…they’re making their way.
TSG: Okay, my follow-up. You’re the FIFA leader in minutes played for any international team, any player, anywhere.
Kristine, in your own words, how big of bad-ass do you consider yourself?
KL: Umm…not that big.
I’ve had the opportunity to play for this long and that’s great.
But you always want to be a World Cup champion and that doesn’t change and you have to keep proving yourself.
TSG: How long do you plan on playing for? Do you have active plans to say, “This is enough,” and hand’em up or how do you imagine it will go?
Have you given it thought?
KL: Right now, I’m in with the team trying to make a difference. I don’t know how long I have left…some things will be under my control some things won’t.
You think about it.
But I think it’s just going to be one of the those days and where you say, “You know, I don’t want to do this anymore.”
TSG: Do you ever email Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy and say, “Ha ha, I’m still playing!”
KL: Well, they’re my biggest fans, but they think I’m the crazy one.
They’re just trying to figure out how long I’m going to go for.
TSG: You took off in 2008 when you gave birth to your first child. Any tips on being mom and managing your soccer career at the same time?
And what’s harder: covering a 21-year-old or convincing your daughter when there are ghosts in the closet?
KL: Soccer part’s a lot easier.
Well overall, kids have such a routine that with the soccer I have to manage my routine versus my daughters’.
That’s the biggest part…and of course, my husband is a huge supporter.
TSG: Like I mentioned before we started, I have a 3-week-old and you know I’d like her to get, you know, maybe 10% of the U.S. Women’s Team caps that you have. What should I be looking for in her development? Were you doing, like, bicycle kicks at 6-months? Is your daughter?
KL: No, no, you don’t have to worry about that yet.
Just make sure she eats and sleeps and poops and you’ll be alright.
TSG: What about pull-ups and holding her neck up?
KL: Give two to three months for that.
TSG: Beautiful, we’re already ahead of the game there.
Okay, here’s a question that I thought would be one that you may be perfectly suited to answer.
In regards to the Men’s National Team, two axioms, for lack of a better word, usually come up: (1) That the Men’s Soccer Team cannot be governed by a foreign coach; and, (2) that the Men’s youth development program is lacking.
But then I look at the Women’s Team and you guys have been wildly successful under Pia [Sweden] and our Women’s Team does not appear to be lacking for the talent.
Why the digression?
KL: Well if you look at the game of soccer, it’s the rest of the world’s main sport.
Here it’s not. For the Men specifically, you have the pull of all the other sports.
On the Women’s side, soccer starts around the same time as other sports, but we’re not really competing with one another for time…
TSG: But maybe more acutely, your manager is from Sweden and both Men’s and Women’s come up through the U.S. youth programs. Why are their different standards and expectations?
Is the only limitation the different variety of sports?
KL: I don’t think it’s only that, but it has a lot to do with it though.
The rest of the world you’ve got cricket, soccer, and basketball, baseball.
Here’s you just don’t have that focus.
And it’s also watching it.
Seeing it all time on TV as part of the culture is a big part of it as well.
TSG: Light fare questions for you now.
Favorites contemporary players to watch, male or female?
KL: So, as an older player…Ryan Giggs of course, but I just like watching the highest leagues.
I’m a Revolution fan, but I think if you see the game played at the highest level, those are all always enjoyable.
TSG: Now, you grew up near New York City, but live in Boston, I’m going to presume you’re still a Yankees fan right?
KL: Oh no, always a Yankee fan.
TSG: So here’s my follow-up. Abby Wambach is fast coming up on your goals record. She’s a Boston Red Sox fan and she punk’d you on YouTube. Do you ever consider not passing the ball to her?
KL: No, well…
TSG: C’mon, let’s think about this…she’s going to break your record, she’s Red Sox fan…
KL: She’s from Florida; she doesn’t know what she wants.
TSG: Fair enough…
TSG: Who’s got the best shot on the team?
KL: We got a lot of players that can hit a ball.
Lauren Cheney, Abby hit a ball hard. I would say those two.
TSG: What player is most likely to slip when she wears heels?
KL: Probably us old players.
TSG: You’re being way too diplomatic here. What player on the team reminds you the most of yourself?
TSG: On the field, Heather O’Reilly, she goes 100 miles per hour. I was like that when I was younger.
TSG: We think you still come pretty close to topping out at 100 miles per hour. Kristine, best of luck in Mexico and good luck in getting ready for the big one next year. Thanks for your time.
KL: Thank you.