No soccer player in the world has appeared in uniform for their country more than Kristine Lilly.
The “Queen of Caps,” nicknamed for her appearances for the U.S. National Team over 23 years, was at the forefront of the United States’ women’s soccer dominance on the world stage.
Lilly made her national team debut as a 16-year-old high school student. She then went on to the University of North Carolina, where she was a four-time All-American and led the Tar Heels to four consecutive NCAA titles.
Lilly played in three Olympic Games (winning two gold medals and one silver) and played in the Women’s World Cup five times (two gold medals, three bronze). In all, she played in a remarkable 354 games in a U.S. uniform, scoring 130 goals.
But it was a play that did not show up on the scoresheet that might be her most memorable. The 1999 Women’s World Cup final between the United States and China went to extra time and then a shootout, where Brandi Chastain scored the decisive goal became an icon. That moment, though, would not have happened without Lilly’s heroics. During the sudden-death extra time, the Chinese got a shot past goalkeeper Briana Scurry that Lilly headed off the goal line. The game remained tied; Lilly scored on her kick in the shootout and Chastain eventually lifted the Americans to victory.
“The funny thing is the weakest part of my game is heading,” Lilly said years later. “There are so many moments that make a success and, granted, me heading off the line was like ‘Whaaaa?’ but I’m just glad I was there to make it. Everyone remembers the Brandi moment and I love it, too.”
Lilly, who played midfield and forward, scored goals in three consecutive matches during the Athens 2004 Olympic Games as the Americans claimed gold.