Abby Wambach, Kristine Lilly, Hope Solo: Chat with U.S. Women's Soccer Team


The Chi of Abby Wambach
I recently spoke to Abby Wambach, Kristine Lilly, Hope Solo, and the U.S. Women’s Soccer Head Coach Greg Ryan about what the world stage of soccer looks like now, the competition between positions on the U.S. Team, and, from Abby, what she needs to do to keep her Chi in balance.

By Kaki Flynn
Columnist
US Olympic Team
One of over 100 stories written about some of the world's most famous athletes while working for the US Team.

At the 2003 Women’s World Cup in Carson, Calif., I remember standing next to USA Today columnist Christine Brennan as we interviewed Abby Wambach after the team had just beat Canada to finish third in the tournament.

Brennan was asking Wambach something about how tall she was, and other small-talk type of questions. Wambach looked a little weary, but stood and answered questions long after her teammates left the mixed zone, the space where something like 15 journalists cram into a two square foot space to interview the athletes.

In this case, it was just Brennan and I, because the press had thinned out considerably when the U.S. lost its chance to win the Cup after losing a game the day before.

Moments before, I watched Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Tiffeny Millbrett and the other teammates run off of the field; it was cool to stand in the tunnel and see that piece of history pass by me.

I had interviewed all of those athletes before, and, while my athletic accomplishments never matched theirs, I went to UNC-Chapel Hill at the same time as many of them, so we had grown up in parallel ways in the sports world.

The next day was a disappointment both for the U.S. Team, and, I have to say, for many of the fans of the U.S. Team. Sweden was playing Germany for the final. It wasn’t the 1999 Rose Bowl reenactment that people had expected. People who saw my press pass would stop me and ask, “Where is the U.S. Team? Have you seen them?”

No, they weren’t there, at least not in any easy-to-find way. I had asked Wambach what the team was doing the next day. Many of them were flying off to go and see Mia Hamm’s husband play baseball. Others were going home.

It’s too bad – many fans paid a lot of money to come and see the U.S. Team.

It was awesome to see Birgit Prinz, Germany’s version of Abby Wambach, beat the crap out of Sweden the next day. I introduced her to my friend Jaime Green, who I dragged with me to the tournament. It can be a real hindrance to have friends with you while you work; it’s a break neck pace that I don’t fully appreciate until someone that doesn’t understand the speed you need to work with comes with you, and lags behind.

At the same time, being a sports reporter is both exciting and incredibly lonely. I was over traveling without friends.

It was great to watch her tell Birgit that she wasn’t a huge soccer fan before the World Cup, but that watching her play made her change her mind. Birgit signed the back of her V.I.P. pass, with a message thanking her for coming and watching her play, and urging her to keep loving soccer.

Don’t you love it? There are at least 200 die hard Birgit Prinz fans that just read that and balked inside a little. It’s like telling Michael Jordan that you never really liked basketball much, but since you watched him play in a game, you changed your mind.

Much has changed since those games. When I interviewed Abby this time, four years later, you could feel the change in her energy and her confidence since I spoke to her at the 2003 World Cup.

Here are some snippets from the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team now:

KRISTINE LILLY



Kaki Flynn:
Compare this WC with previous versions of this team?

Kristine Lilly: It is another test for us. With this team, these past two years, it has just been a growing process for us. One test after another. If you are not on, you want to see what the team is going to do. And this team keeps stepping up.

U.S. WOMEN'S TEAM HEAD COACH GREG RYAN
Kaki: Can you win the World Cup?
Greg Ryan: Yes, we can definitely win the World Cup. There are potentially eight teams that can win the World Cup. I think we are the best team in the world, and the other teams are going to have to find a way to knock us off.

Any more questions?

Hope Solo:


Kaki: How is it going as the goalie for the U.S. Team?
Hope:
I’m good athletically, we all are, or we wouldn’t be here - but it is hard having Brianna Scurry right at my heels – you know, she is a legend. You know, it is hard for my decision making, to stay calm and composed.

Coach Greg has said, “I believe in you, so you should believe in yourself.”

He really knows how to connect with players, and how to motivate them. He can inspire me.

Kaki: How is it with you and Brianna being one-two right now?

We have a wonderful working relationship, period. It’s competitive, it’s full of respect. A lot of times, you will hear number one, number two. We work well together, and we compete.

CHRISTINE SINCLAIR
Canadian National Team team captain:


Kaki: How do you feel that this World Cup is different from the last one?

Christine: You don’t look across the field, and see who you idolized growing up, at least I know that was the case for me. Now I am playing against a bunch of people I played against in college, so, the mental hurdle isn’t there that was there three, four years ago.

Kaki: Who did you idolize?
Christine: Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Tiffeny Millbrett. They were very successful, and they won World Cups, and Olympics.

I don’t know if there will be another Mia because the level of every team has risen so much. The U.S. used to beat us by five or six goals, and now games are decided in a minute, and it’s not because the teams are getting worse, it’s because the level of play has risen for everyone.

ABBY WAMBACH:

Kaki: How are the games going?
Abby:
Kristine Lilly is our savior, she is our legend, and she is the person that we turn to in the key moments of a game.

Kaki: How would you assess the development of this team since the last World Cup, and the last Olympics?
Abby: You can’t compare this team to the last World Cup, and the last Olympics. It is a completely new cast. Even the development from this year, as compared to last year. Carli Lloyd, Leslie Osborne have gotten some serious minutes, and the more experience they have in pressure situations, the better.

Leslie, she slows the game down for us. She keeps the ball for us. Obviously, Shannon Boxx, we have been missing her throughout this whole year, and that has been tough on our team, but these players have stepped it up. I think that shows a lot about their character.

Carli – the more time you get on the field, the better you get. She gets balls forward, she pushes forward. She is great getting through defenses. She has taken the team on her shoulders, and won games for us.

[Natasha] Kai has a couple of things she needs to work on – her fitness, her experience, her know how. She is such a slashing forward, and she is so fast, but she over thinks too much – so we want to speed her up when we need her to, and slow her down, when we need her to. That is going to make such a big difference. She is going to score tons of goals for us. That takes a lot of pressure off us for sure.

Kaki: I was talking to some of the international players, and they said when they started playing soccer, you guys were their heroes. And they said now that they have played against you guys in college, they don’t think, “That’s my hero!” they think, “Hey, it’s just another soccer player, I can beat them!” Do you think that levels the playing field in soccer? Are you guys feeling that?

Abby:
The greatest thing about that, is I wish you could have just said that to Mia, and Christine, and Julie, because these are the women that actually made that possible. With the ‘99 World Cup exposure, it has given a lot of push, and the Title IX exposure it has given the push for a lot of colleges to add more programs to their schools, and it gives people from other countries opportunity.

That they can come and play along side us in college, and now play along side us and on the other side of us, it gives them confidence and it makes me smile about where this game is headed, and what this game has gone through, because it has not always been that way.

It just goes to show you how far we have come. It’s kudos to us, and it’s kudos to them. It’s kudos to the coaches. It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of risk to build up a new team.

Kaki: What’s up with the WUSA? It took decades for the NFL to become successful.
Abby: We are still working on it, every month. A lot is riding on the World Cup, and how much publicity that gets.

We live in a country where people want it now, so we need investors that are willing to do it for the good of the cause, for the movement of soccer, because in this country it’s moving, so we need to make sure we keep that movement intact.

Kaki: The Women’s Sports Foundation’s Annual Salute to Women is coming up. Julie Foudy was a president for that organization, as well as a lot of other famous athletes. Where do you see your involvement in that organization?
Abby: Obviously, the Women’s Sports Foundation is near and dear to all of our hearts. They provide a lot of young women with the ability to play sports. They provide a lot of funding. The one major thing I need to do in my career is I need to give back to equalize it all out, because it can get to your head, because we are pro athletes.

The biggest thing for me is always to give back to do what’s best for myself to keep my Chi at one level. The ying and yang has to be balanced out for me.

Links:
Abby Wambach

kristinelilly13.com

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