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Time can’t tarnish Lilly

WPS a perfect fit for soccer legend

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / April 10, 2010

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Young women soccer players have been looking up to Kristine Lilly since she became a member of the US national team 23 years ago. And as the Boston Breakers concluded preseason training, some of those players were looking at Lilly as she led the way in fitness drills.

“She was our fittest player when we did fitness testing,’’ Breakers coach Tony DiCicco said. “She may have lost a step, but she’s a smarter player. She’s a special person, special qualities. Even when she was young, she had this ability to recover from injury so quickly, and now her body is still very solid.’’

Lilly, who has made 344 appearances for the national team, by far a record for internationals, is ready to start the Women’s Professional Soccer season when the Breakers visit the Washington Freedom tonight.

“I didn’t feel comfortable with the thought of retiring so I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to come back,’ ’’ Lilly said of joining the Breakers last season. “I enjoyed myself and did some good things, but I always think I should play better. I lose a little quickness, a little strength here and there, but the things I lose I can pick up in experience, fitness.

“You’ve just got to work hard, you’ve got to run — mentally is the biggest difference. You have to run physically, but mentally you have to be strong. I work hard on my fitness during the offseason. Everyone’s working hard, I just can last.’’

Lilly, 38, is going strong six years after the retirements of Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, and Carin Jennings-Gabarra, who also debuted in 1987. Lilly took time off for the birth of daughter Sidney Marie, now 2, then returned to the game she started playing as a youngster in Wilton, Conn.

“It’s about organizing your time,’’ Lilly said. “I go to practice and then I go home and I’m smiling with her. I wouldn’t have it any other way.’’

Lilly’s generation is also responsible for offspring such as Kasey Moore, 22, the youngest player on the Breakers’ roster, who grew up as a fan.

Moore had a privileged view of the rise of soccer in the United States while growing up in Mission Viejo, Calif. She watched the men’s national team as it prepared for the 1994 World Cup on a field a block from her house, then her family hosted Tisha Venturini as the women’s team prepared for the 1999 women’s World Cup. When the US team defeated China in penalty kicks for the title, Moore and her family were among the 90,185 in the Rose Bowl.

“My club team [Laguna Hills Eclipse] was chosen for the closing ceremonies,’’ Moore recalled. “It was so much fun, but I didn’t realize at the time how significant that game was going to be. Little did I know I would be playing for Tony and with Kristine later. I have playing cards signed by them from when I was little. It’s a dream.

“We had to fill out a media thing and they asked us when did you realize you wanted to be a professional soccer player? And I think it was at that game, because there were so many people there to watch it and it kind of took women’s soccer to a whole other level. I don’t know if it was respected as much before that, but after that they were everywhere, they were on every magazine, every TV show. It took that game to another level and made us realize as young kids that this is what we want to do.’’

Moore, who will start in central defense next to national team member Amy LePeilbet, was born Aug. 3, 1987, 10 days before Lilly scored the first of 129 national team goals in a 1-1 tie with China in Shenyang.

“It’s crazy, it’s amazing, it’s been 10 years since that World Cup,’’ Lilly said. “People watched that game and they’re playing. That means it held a spark for them, they wanted to be on the national team and there’s a league for them to play in now. Every time I see kids out there I definitely see them as the future of soccer, at whatever level they decide to play on. You have to look at them, that they’re going to make the difference somewhere.’’

Lilly left her imprint on the women’s game long ago, but she continues to be a defining factor.

“There’s a lot of people that could argue that she’s the best ever to play the game,’’ DiCicco said. “Certainly, in my mind, she’s on the starting 11 and she’s on everybody’s all-time best 11 in the women’s game. There’s nobody that would leave her off. Some might leave Mia Hamm off, but nobody would leave Kristine off.’’

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