Boston Breakers Co-Captain Kristine Lilly with teammates after practice on the Harvard fields.
By Lindsay Rico
Soccer is – if you look at the rosters of Women’s Professional Soccer – a sport played by 20-somethings. When #13 Kristine Lilly takes the field for the Boston Breakers’ home opener against the Philadelphia Independence on Sunday she will be, at 38, by far the oldest player on the team and one of the oldest in the league. Many of her U.S. Team colleagues who won the world cup in 1999 – players like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain – have retired.
And yet, on the official media day last week, as players finished practice, showered and grabbed bag lunches in the Murr Center Lounge at Harvard Stadium, word filtered out that she was also the fittest. Yep, the athlete who in pre-season conditioning had come out on top. “She is Superwoman to me,” says Leslie Osborne, who with Lilly is co-captain of the team.
The point is that Lilly is not merely hanging in (understandable given her impressive resume, two-time World Cup and Olympic champion, second leader goal scorer in the world…). She is today a key playmaker and scorer on her team. She was named to the WPS All-Star team last season. Last month she was called up to play for the U.S. National Team against Mexico (US won 1-0 on a snow-covered! field), bringing Lilly’s world cap total to 344 (she was already the world’s all time leader in caps, man or woman).
Sure, her life is more complicated (married with a 20-month-old daughter will do that), but defender Stephanie Cox, formerly of the now-defunct L.A. Sol, says Lilly may be older, but that’s not necessarily a negative. “I’m almost jealous because she has had so long to figure out her body and she’s knows herself really well,” says Cox, 24. “She is probably the fittest she’s ever been.”
Age does matter. But it’s not the whole picture. FGN spoke with Lilly about how she gets the most from her body – and her experience.
FGN: What do you differently fitness-wise now than when you did years ago?
KL: The biggest difference for me now is an extra day off here and there. It’s not about over-doing it and doing extra, extra, extra. I’m more efficient with my time and I make sure to get rest. We practice five days a week, have a game on Saturday, and Sunday is for recovering. I might do a lighter session or take an extra day off here or there. Fitness has always been the backbone of my game. So I make sure I’m fit.
FGN: How do you approach the game differently now than when you started playing professionally?
KL: When you step on that field there’s a competitiveness. You want to win. It’s all the same. For me, the difference is my life off the field.
FGN: What does experience count for?
KL: Sometimes young players are still worried about everything. If you are out there, focus on two things you can do and do that well. Don’t try to solve the world’s problems in one practice. You see the eagerness in [young players’] eyes. It’s great to see that. You want that passion. But realize that everyone makes mistakes.
FGN: After the ponytail pull last fall in the college playoff game, there has been talk about how physical women’s soccer has become. Is it rougher?
KL: It’s physical. It’s been physical since I played in high school. Players today are better and stronger. But there is not a moment when you are not having some bodily contact. And it can teeter on the line of foul or no foul. That is just part of it.
FGN: How long do you plan to play? Any plans to retire?
KL: No! We’re just playing it by ear. I’m taking care of my body. I’ll know when it’s time.
FGN: Do younger players ever tease you about your age?
KL: Yeah, there are some comments out there, but it’s all in good fun. I just make sure to give it right back to them!