Life as a trailblazer can be boring. Before a recent indoor
soccer game, Washington Warthog midfielder Kristine Lilly sat in
her locker room in USAir Arena in Landover, Md. She fiddled with
her shin guard, adjusted a sock and stared at the clock,
awaiting the start of the game. "It's lonely in here sometimes,"
she said above the peals of laughter and the hip-hop music
booming from the locker room next door, where the rest of her
teammates were gathered. "Next game I'm definitely bringing a
This season Lilly was the only female in the three-year-old
Continental Indoor Soccer League (CISL), which is composed
mostly of former college players and past U.S. national team
members. Collette Cunningham and Shannon Presley played
sparingly in the CISL last year, but neither had Lilly's skills
Though only 24, Lilly has been on the U.S. women's national team
for eight years. No female U.S. team player has competed in more
international games (98), and only four have scored more goals
than Lilly's 37. Before graduating from North Carolina in 1993,
Lilly, a four-time All-America, led the Tar Heels to four
"She is not here to be a superstar or to show guys up," said
Warthog coach Jim Gabarra, whose wife, Carin, is a national team
player and the women's soccer coach at Navy. "Lil is here to
"I hope people don't see this as a media ploy," the incurably
shy Lilly said after joining the Warthogs on Aug. 20, and you
can believe her. While playing for Wilton (Conn.) High, which
she led to three state titles, Lilly would occasionally feign
injury to avoid having to talk to the media.
"This is a chance for me to play," she said. "A lot of people on
the national team either compete for their colleges or coach in
the fall. I didn't really have anyone to work out with." The
national team will resume training full time in January in
preparation for the Olympic debut of women's soccer. "Because
the indoor game is so fast, [playing for the Warthogs] will help
my quickness, mentally and physically. It will force me to make
earlier decisions when I have the ball. Guys are always a step
ahead in quickness and strength."
Though Lilly missed the first two months of the indoor season
because of her national team and soccer camp commitments, it
didn't take long for the midfielder to become a favorite of the
fans. During home games, little girls would scream "Kristine!"
in unison, and small boys with large lungs chanted, "Put in the
Others fans, such as U.S. national team forward Mia Hamm, who
lives in the Washington area, cheered a bit more quietly. At a
game between the Warthogs and the Dallas Sidekicks, Hamm watched
the action and said, "Lil is the most complete and consistent
player we have. Offensively she is always a scoring threat, and
defensively she rarely gets beat. The fact that she can come out
here and compete says so much about her."
Lilly played only a few minutes in the Dallas game, a 10-5
Warthog loss. "She'll get a shift here and a shift there as she
adjusts to the indoor game," said Gabarra. "Once she does, I
don't see any ceiling." Indeed, by the end of the regular
season, Lilly was playing three to five shifts a game.
Lilly, who was accustomed to the red, white and blue,
hand-on-the-heart seriousness of a national-team game, also had
to adjust to the snaggletoothed cartoon character on her jersey
and the carnival atmosphere of a Warthog game: the roving band
of entertainers known as the Boar Corps; the cute 22-year-old
P.A. announcer who wades through the crowd with a microphone
(causing teenage girls to swoon); and various Veeckian
promotions and wacky contests. She had fun. On the sideline she
would catch herself singing along with the nonstop music and
watching the video clips of Elvis in Viva Las Vegas instead of
watching the game.
But Lilly was not just another sideshow. She deserved to be on
the team, which fell just short of making this month's playoffs.
The 5'4" sprite with a wavy blonde ponytail may not look the
part, but she was one of the most skilled players in the league.
"She is treated like any other player," Warthog forward Dante
Washington said after the Dallas game. "The only thing separate
is the locker room. But there, she really isn't missing much.
Just locker room talk, and the locker room talk is not
necessarily about women."
As if on cue, Lilly appeared in the hallway. Since this G-rated
locker room talk was about a woman--one with a deadly left-footed
shot--Lilly smiled sheepishly. She picked up her pace as she
passed the open door to the room, which was littered with
crushed beer cans, dirty socks and crumpled jocks, and realized
she wasn't missing much at all.
COLOR PHOTO: TED MATHIASPlaying with men has made Lilly physically and mentally faster. [Kristine Lilly playing soccer against two male opponents]