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Interview with Kristine Lilly

HBO

You and your former teammates were recently honored by the Women's Sports Foundation at an awards dinner - but you weren't able to attend because you're still playing?

Kristine Lilly

Yes, I am currently playing with the U.S. team.

HBO

Did you ever believe that after 18 years you'd still be playing soccer?

Kristine Lilly

No, I didn't. I don't think I believed after 5 or 10 years that I'd still be playing. But we all learned with this team how much we enjoy it, not only playing but what we're doing for soccer, and what we're doing for young girls.

HBO

How is it different this year, playing without all of your original teammates?

Kristine Lilly

Well I think the biggest difference is when I look to my left, right, forward or backward, I don't see any of 'em. [LAUGHS] And for me that was a little hard in the beginning. It's still a little bit hard. But with every turnover in a team you have to keep going on, if that's what you want to do. And although I miss having them around and laughing and joking with them, I know that they're right there whenever I need 'em. I can call them on the phone and our friendship continues, even though we're not playing together.

HBO

You just recorded your 299th cap - or international game - when you played Mexico. In order to get to 300, when's the next possible international game for you?

Kristine Lilly

Well, we won't have any more games until next year, and our first trip is usually in China, so it could be in China.

I'm going to keep playing until I can't contribute anymore. I'm gonna shoot for the World Cup.

HBO

So will there be a 19th year for you?

Kristine Lilly

I'm going to keep playing until I can't contribute anymore. I'm gonna shoot for the World Cup.

HBO

Let's go back a little bit. Can you tell us about your first year on the national team?

Kristine Lilly

Ahh, first year. 1987. I was 16 years old when I made the team. Julie, Mia, Joy and I were on our first trip to China. It was scary, it was exciting, it was new. I don't think I knew where China was. [LAUGHS] I didn't even really know what the U.S. team was about -- I was young and it wasn't popular back then. We weren't on TV, so I didn't really know about it. I was just playing soccer because I loved it, and then I got this opportunity to travel with the U.S. team.

HBO

What were some of the sacrifices that you had to make back then?

Kristine Lilly

Well, I don't know if I'd call 'em sacrifices. It was more of an opportunity, I think. The things I left behind, which I thought were so important at the time, were a big dance, or a weekend. You're like, Oh gosh I have to miss a weekend? You miss some school, even miss a lot of family things like holidays. But for the most part, my family was there to support me, and friends were there to support me, so you just had to realize what you were doing. I knew that soccer was what I wanted, so it wasn't as hard.

HBO

How about your family at that time - were they thinking you were crazy to do this, or did they get it?

Kristine Lilly

Actually, they didn't even know much about it. My parents grew up in New York City, so soccer wasn't their sport of choice. My brother played, so he knew about it. But as with me, it was all new. They knew it was an opportunity for me, and something that they supported, so they were great in every aspect.

HBO

What's the one thing that really sticks out from those early years, a memorable moment?

Kristine Lilly

Memorable moments...probably the hairdos. Some crazy hairdos. We had hand-me-down uniforms that were probably from the men's team.

HBO

You've been there from the beginning and you're still playing now. You're probably the best person to ask this question to: how would you characterize the state of women's soccer now?

Kristine Lilly

I think women's soccer as a whole has grown tremendously, in the sense that the game is so much better and more tactical than it has been in the past. It used to be that winning games was more about athleticism. Now, it's more about tactics. I think if you look at our Olympic team, in the finals against Brazil, we weren't better than them technically, but our heart was bigger. Our team unity was bigger. And I think when you look at the U.S. team, that's one the biggest strengths about us, the team unity we have in every aspect -- on the field and off the field.

But when you look at the game overall, it's just grown tremendously. I just played in Sweden, and in their league, some of the players are getting paid some money. It's still a progression over there, but at least that's happening. They're paying some players in France. The game overall in that sense is growing, and there's more support. And when you have more support behind a game, that means it can only get better -- with the coaching, training, the players getting even better than they are.

HBO

Throughout your career, if you were to pick one defining moment, what would it be?

Kristine Lilly

I think the biggest impact this team has had, besides the two decades that it's been around, is the '99 World Cup. You can't really compare that to anything else. It was one of these moments that was bigger than the sport itself. When I look back on it, it wasn't about that soccer game so much as it was about what happens to society. Some people that never had seen soccer or cared about soccer were watching it. And it transcended gender, race, everything. People were supporting a team together. And, you know, when a team wins, Americans love that. But they were just happy to see us play. Everything just became this big snowball effect. It was the biggest event for women's sports.

HBO

Have you seen the film yet?

Kristine Lilly

I have - it was great. When you're a player, it's hard, too. HBO had to cram 20 years into an hour. [LAUGHS] That's not so easy. But when I looked at it, it was great. When people watch it, they're gonna see something and learn something about the women's team that they didn't know, and I think that's important. I got teary-eyed watching Brandi take her penalty kick. I laughed at our hairdos. It was a stroll down memory lane, and that was kinda nice.

HBO

As you know, the film covers a lot of your achievements, but it also covers the relationship the 5 of you had over those 17, 18 years. What are your relationships like now? Are you still in touch with everyone?

Kristine Lilly

Yeah, actually Brandi was just in Boston this past weekend for a Major League Soccer game, and she stayed with me. I see Julie when she covers the national team games as a commentator. I've seen Mia a couple times, and Joy I just saw when we played out there. So we do try and stay in touch, and we all know that we can call each other anytime if we need something, or just want to say hi. It's hard when you don't see people as much, and then sometimes you get caught up in your life. But then I'm like, Shoot, I gotta call and see what those girls are up to.

HBO

What do you guys talk about - is it mostly about soccer?

Kristine Lilly

Oh no, soccer is probably the last thing we talk about. [LAUGHS] I think we talk about what's going on in each other's lives, and we bust on each other -- that will never end. When we all come into New York it's gonna be just laughter, and we'll reminisce probably. But for the most part we just enjoy each other's company.

HBO

There are a lot of laughs in the film. You had a lot of ups and downs, but you laughed a lot along the way. Can you remember some of the funnier moments with the team?

Kristine Lilly

Let's see, there were a lot of practical jokes in the locker room. Jule's always trying to dance funny or dorky and makin' us laugh. Mia does great impersonations - she can do Australian and British accents really well, or country singer accents. And Joy always has her kids around, so they're makin' us laugh, playing games with us. That's just truly one of the greatest things - we got to enjoy every part of it, even the on-the-road aspect.

Mia does great impersonations - she can do Australian and British accents really well, or country singer accents.

HBO

What were some of the practical jokes?

Kristine Lilly

Well, one year Julie had played a practical joke on Brandi, got the coach in on it, I think told her she couldn't go somewhere. I can't remember exactly, but really got her. So Brandi got her back and made T-shirts with a picture of Julie on it, probably when she was 18 or so, and she had big, poofy hair and big and poofy eyebrows. We all had 'em on right before a team picture, and Jules just lost it.

HBO

Let's talk about what you're doing today. You just did another soccer clinic, right?

Kristine Lilly

Yeah, I visit schools and do soccer drills, and talk to kids about the sport and their goals.

HBO

What's the message that you try to get across?

Kristine Lilly

I tell them that if you set your mind to it, you can achieve anything. And I ask the kids what they want to be. A lot of them say soccer, or they want to be a dancer, singer, baseball or basketball player. And I tell them they can do any of those things. And if maybe along the way they discover they don't want to, they'll find something else. But if they set their mind to it, and believe in themselves, they can do things, and that I'm an example of that.

Dare to Dream: The Story of the US. Women's Soccer Team

Kristine Lilly