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Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Kristine Lilly on verge of international soccer record

CARSON, Calif. -- For nearly two decades, Kristine Lilly remained in the background while such teammates as Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain received much of the acclaim for the United States' achievements in women's soccer.

On Wednesday in China, Lilly will reach an unprecedented individual milestone in international sport.

Lilly, 34, is set to become the first soccer player to compete in 300 international games when the United States meets Norway in the Four Nations Tournament at Guangzhou.

"It makes me realize that I've been around for a long time," Lilly said recently. "This was never one of my personal goals but when I look at it, I'm proud of it because it means I've been contributing for so long at the highest level."

Lilly's 300th game will give her 127 more international appearances than Mexico's Claudio Suarez, the all-time men's leader with 173.

"Nothing like that exists on the men's side," U.S. women's coach Greg Ryan said of Lilly's impending achievement. "You just can't last that long."

Lilly demonstrated her durability last year. She played all but 34 minutes in starting all eight of the United States' games, with four goals and three assists.

As a result, Lilly won U.S. Soccer's female athlete of the year award for the second time.

"She's getting up there, but you'd never know it," Ryan said. "Every game, she just brings so much consistency."

Lilly began her international career in 1987, 12 days after her 16th birthday, in the same game in which Hamm made her debut.

"I was scared," Lilly recalled. "I was so nervous and so scared because I was so young. But it was also very exciting. There's a very special feeling that you get when you walk on the field to represent your country."

Lilly soon became a fixture on the left flank. She started all but one game for the squads that won the 1991 and 1999 Women's World Cup, and the 1996 and 2004 Olympics.

Since the American women's team started in 1985, Lilly has played in all but 53 of its games. She ranks second behind Hamm in all-time international scoring with 105 goals.

"She's laid the foundation for this team," former teammate Julie Foudy said. "She hasn't gotten the recognition that she's deserved for what she's given to this sport."

Lilly's 300th game will also mark the start of a new era. For the first time, the United States will try to qualify for the Women's World Cup and the Olympics without Hamm, Chastain and Foudy as part of its core.

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