Kristine Lilly leads camp in Wilton, home of her rise to stardom
The house in which she grew up was sold two years ago, and several cousins are the only relatives left in the town where she was raised.
Yet though the connections fray, Kristine Lilly’s bond with Wilton remains firm.
“I love this town,” Lilly said Wednesday afternoon at Ambler Field, the site of her annual soccer academy. “It was a great place to grow up and play, and I like showing the campers that you can be from anywhere and great things can happen if you put your mind to it.”
The staggering list of great things Lilly has accomplished began during her time at Wilton High School: She helped the girls soccer team win three state titles and three conference championships before graduating in 1989, finishing with well over 100 career goals.
Lilly went on to win four NCAA Division I titles at the University of North Carolina and received the Hermann Trophy (given annually to the top male and female players) in 1991.
A 5-foot-4 midfielder, Lilly made her first appearance for the U.S. women’s national team when she was 16 and entering her junior year of high school. She played on the team for 23 years, winning two World Cups (1991, ’98) and two Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004).
Lilly’s final match with the U.S. team came during a World Cup qualifier against Mexico in 2010. It was her 354th cap, a record for international appearances (male or female) that still stands.
She finished her international career with 130 goals and ranks third on the team’s all-time scoring list behind Abby Wambach (184) and Mia Hamm (158). Lilly’s 106 career assists are second behind Hamm’s 145.
Two years after Lilly’s retirement (in 2011, at age 39), the United States Soccer Federation chose Lilly for its United States Women’s National Team All-Time Best XI.
Now 47 years old and the mother of two daughters, Lilly is content with playing pickup games; at the end of Wednesday’s camp she joined the other instructors for a lighthearted scrimmage on a condensed pitch at Ambler Field. “Oh no,” Lilly said when asked whether she could still play near her previous level. “I couldn’t do anything I used to.”
But Lilly is intent on staying involved in soccer. Along with former college and international teammates Hamm and Tishs Venturini-Hoch, Lilly is a founder of the TeamFirst Soccer Academy, which offers instruction for players ages 6-17.
She’s also an author. Lilly’s first book, “Powerhouse: 13 Teamwork Tactics That Build Excellence and Unrivaled Success,” was released in May.
“A guy (business consultant Dr. John Gillis) I was coaching with in Austin (Texas, where Lilly served for three years as a volunteer assistant coach on the University of Texas women’s team) ... our kids were playing together and we were coaching together ... we were chatting about the U.S. team and the success and he was chatting about how businesses don’t work together as much ... when you talk about teamwork within the business it’s always a negative word,” Lilly said about the idea for the book, co-written with Dr. Gillis and his wife, Dr. Lynette Gillis. “We thought it would be great to share the story (of the U.S. women’s team) but also impact organizations that could use it to be more cohesive.”
Those watching the postgame ceremony following the U.S. national team’s 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the women’s World Cup final July 7 might have seen Lilly. As an ambassador for FIFA, she was in France for the semifinals and the finals and presented medals to the U.S. players.
Lilly said she was pleased that Megan Rapinoe and some of the other U.S. players at the tournament were vocal in their belief that the women’s national team should be paid as much as the men’s squad. Rapinoe is the plaintiff in a gender discrimination lawsuit the women’s team filed in March against the U.S. Soccer Federation.
“Equal pay — it’s a big topic, we use the words equal pay to grab attention — but it’s about equal investment ... how much money are you spending on grassroots; how much are you spending in marketing, travel, hotels, all of that,” Lilly said. “We’re at a point that it should be equal. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happens soon.”
One piece of information did catch Lilly by surprise Wednesday: She was told that a popular GPS navigation app instructs drivers to turn onto Kristine Lilly Way, a stretch of road leading into Wilton High School renamed (from School Road) in her honor.
“I made Waze, really?” Lilly asked. “Ha. That’s awesome.”