Kristine Lilly is the world’s most capped player ever – her record is insane
In football, playing 100 times for your country is seen as remarkably impressive. Kristine Lilly’s 354 appearances for the United States are, therefore, all the more extraordinary.
Having played for the US across a span of 23 years, Lilly has played more international games than any player, male or female, in history.
Her accompanying honours are also staggering. Two Olympic gold medals, a two-time Women’s World Cup winner and a former winner of the Hermann Trophy as a junior.
Lilly is the only player to play in five Women’s World Cups and has been described by Team USA as one of the most “legendary and accomplished” players ever.
Here’s the story of the world’s most capped footballer:
Playing men’s football
Lilly enjoyed an outstanding college career playing for the North Carolina Tar Heels between 1989 and 1992.
The American won four NCAA Women’s Soccer Championships and the University of North Carolina retired her number 15 jersey in 1994.
Following her success in college, Lilly attracted the interest of the Washington Warthogs, once part of the now-defunct Continental Indoor Soccer League.
Having grown up playing with her brother and other boys, a then-24-year-old Lilly was not fazed by the knowledge she was the only woman in the all-male professional indoor league.
These types of experiences have made her a strong advocate for equality and the former midfielder was a vocal supporter of the USWNT’s campaign for equal pay.
Speaking to The Guardian, Lilly stressed that equal pay is just the start and there is still a long way to go on the path to full parity.
“There are all these little pieces that we are looking for equity in and it is not just about the pay,” she said.
#OnThisDay in 2010, midfielder Kristine Lilly came on as a first-half substitute for 🇺🇸USA in a friendly against Mexico. By doing so, she became the first person in international football history to represent her country in four different decades 🙌 pic.twitter.com/JjVKjVemj0— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) March 28, 2018
Understandably, given how many she caps she won, Lilly doesn’t remember them all.
Yet, amid so many memorable moments, there are plenty of matches of note that stick in the memory.
Indeed, Lilly scored in the 1991 World Cup final as well as the 1996 and 2004 Olympic gold medal matches.
Perhaps her most famous moment, however, came in 1999 during the final of the Women’s World Cup.
During extra-time, Lilly, standing on the goal line, blocked a Chinese shot that had passed keeper, Briana Scurry.
The golden goal rule was still in effect at the time and the US would’ve lost if the ball had gone in. The US team subsequently forced a penalty shoot-out, which they won.
Given all her success, you’d think Lilly was owed a memorable send-off, but her final game ended in defeat to Mexico during a World Cup qualifier.
“I played about 20 minutes,” she told The Guardian. Sometimes, football can be a cruel game.
While Lilly was renowned as one of the best players in the world throughout her career, she never won the world’s best player accolade –– finishing second to Brazilian legend Marta in 2006.
Regardless, the American is a football icon and her appearance record may never be broken ever again.
Compatriots Carli Lloyd and Christie Pearce passed 300 appearances as well, but both have now retired.
Canada’s Christie Sinclair also has more than 300 international caps and is still playing, though she is now 39 years old.
Meanwhile, in the men’s game, no active player has more than 200 appearances, with Cristiano Ronaldo currently on 189 caps for Portugal.
So for the time being, Lilly’s record is safe and that means her career will continue to be hailed as legendary.
A world-class footballer, who broke barriers, broke records and broke hearts when she retired. Now that’s the definition of a trailblazer.