Soccer Star Kristine Lilly Hangs Up Cleats This past week, U.S. soccer legend Kristine Lilly announced her retirement after 24 years on the world stage. She holds the world record for most international appearances -- male or female -- in the sport's history. Host Guy Raz speaks with Lilly about her career and her decision to finally step away from the pitch.

Soccer Star Kristine Lilly Hangs Up Cleats

Soccer Star Kristine Lilly Hangs Up Cleats

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This past week, U.S. soccer legend Kristine Lilly announced her retirement after 24 years on the world stage. She holds the world record for most international appearances — male or female — in the sport's history. Host Guy Raz speaks with Lilly about her career and her decision to finally step away from the pitch.

GUY RAZ, host:

Every sport has its ironman, guys who keep playing for years and years without taking a break. Cal Ripken Jr. in baseball, there was Brett Favre in football. But let's talk about an iron woman.

This past week, Kristine Lilly announced her retirement after more than 24 years as a member of the U.S. national women's soccer team. She played in 352 international games. That's more than any player - male or female - in the history of the sport.

Now when Kristine Lilly became pregnant with her daughter a few years ago, that's when she first thought it might be time to hang up the cleats.

Ms. KRISTINE LILLY (Soccer Player): I remember thinking, I don't want to.

RAZ: Mm-hmm.

Ms. LILLY: So I went through the pregnancy and came back. And the Women's Professional League was starting up in 2009, so it gave me a great opportunity to compete in that. And I did for the two years, and then now I hit my point where I'm ready.

RAZ: Have you put a soccer ball in front of your daughter?

Ms. LILLY: Oh, she's got plenty of soccer balls.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LILLY: We're throwing golf clubs in there now.

RAZ: Kristine, you hold another record, which is that you're both the youngest and the oldest player to score goals for team USA. What do you remember about that first one? You were still in high school back then.

Ms. LILLY: A lot of the other girls in the team were in college. So back then, I thought they were so old. We were like, oh, my god, the college girls.

RAZ: Mm-hmm.

Ms. LILLY: There is a couple of young ones, myself, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett.

RAZ: Now legendary names.

Ms. LILLY: Exactly. And then I got an opportunity to get in the second game, and I remember a ball was played into Carin Jennings-Gabarra and she flicked it and I ran onto it and I - it was kind of like a half-volley. So if you're familiar with soccer, that's always something you love to hit. And I hit it, and it went over the keeper. And I was just so excited.

RAZ: Wow. Who are you guys playing?

Ms. LILLY: I think we were playing China.

RAZ: Hmm. And of course, there was another moment with China, probably one of the most memorable moments in women's soccer, the U.S. victory over China in the World Cup back in 1999. Ninety thousand people...

Ms. LILLY: Yeah.

RAZ: ...who packed into the Rose Bowl to watch that final match - I remember it so clearly - and of course, that moment at the end where you guys ripped off your jerseys, your tops.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: I'm sure that you've told the story thousands of times, but can you describe what that was like?

Ms. LILLY: Well, the World Cup in '99 was amazing because in the beginning, they didn't think that we could sell out the stadiums. They wanted to put us in small venues. So we fought and said, you know what, why not try the big ones? So we had our tails on the line with that. And from the first game to the last, we sold out stadiums and, you know, it just came a snowball effect.

So many people were coming to watch. They're watching us on TV. We walk through airports and everyone would be clapping.

RAZ: That's amazing.

Ms. LILLY: And then we get to, you know, the Rose Bowl for the final and it goes into overtime and then goes to penalty kicks. So talk about the most suspenseful game and the storybook kind of ending, and of course we win, so that was even better.

But it was one of those moments after I took a penalty kick and scored and I was like, okay, relieved. And then, I became nervous for my teammates. So when Brandi shot that last kick and it went in, it was just complete elation.

RAZ: And Brandi, of course, is Brandi Chastain.

Ms. LILLY: Correct. Everything just was off our shoulders and we were just so happy.

RAZ: Yeah. It was an amazing, amazing moment. What are your plans now? Do you think you're going to stay affiliated with soccer in some way?

Ms. LILLY: I think definitely. I mean, I can retire from the game, but I don't think I could leave the game. You know, I run my own camps in Connecticut, Kristine Lilly Soccer Academy, for the last 14, 15 years. And I'm in the start of the process of writing a book.

RAZ: Oh, cool. And I imagine that the scouts are already knocking on your door asking about your daughter?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LILLY: I already contacted Anson at the University of North Carolina to let her know if he's still around that I would love her to go there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: That's Kristine Lilly. She retired this week after 24 years with the U.S. women's national soccer team.

Kristine, thanks. And best of luck to you.

Ms. LILLY: Thank you so much, Guy.

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