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Former U.S. Olympian Lilly special guest at SLU soccer clinic

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CANTON

Today is Kristine Lilly’s 41st birthday.

She won’t be celebrating at her home in Needham, Mass., but rather she’ll be in Canton, teaching the game she loves for the second straight day to coaches and young campers at St. Lawrence University.

They couldn’t have a better instructor on a day dubbed “Kristine Lilly Day” by Canton village officials.

Lilly is the most capped player — male or female — in the history of international soccer, gaining her 352nd and final cap against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier in November 2010.

In her career, she scored 130 goals for the United States women’s national team, second only to Mia Hamm’s 158 and Abby Wambach’s second-place growing tally.

When Lilly retired from international competition last year, it concluded a 24-year career, which began as a 16-year-old high school student, competing for the U.S. in the 1988 World Cup. Now she’s involved in the sport in new ways, including operating a camp with Hamm and other former Olympic teammates, doing private lessons and working camps like the Lake Placid Soccer Centre camp at SLU this weekend.

“I want the kids to have a good time, to learn to love the game,” Lilly said. “I don’t want them to burn out by age 12 and that happens sometimes. I hope they can have some special moments in soccer.”

The special moments for Lilly have been numerous. She won Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2004 and competed in five FIFA World Cup tournaments (the only woman to do so), winning two World Championships. She also played professionally, mostly with the Boston Breakers of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), and before that she was a four-time NCAA champion at the University of North Carolina.

The wife of a firefighter and mother of two also appeared in the HBO documentary “Dare to Dream: The Story of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team.”

“I’ve had a lot of great moments in my career. I’m very proud of my longevity in the sport,” Lilly said. “It was big winning the World Cup and, of course, the two Olympic gold medals. Those were certainly highlights.”

SLU men’s soccer coach Bob Durocher says he was elated when he found out in April that Lilly would be attending the Lake Placid camp, which specializes in teaching the Coerver Method of soccer.

“I watched her a lot when she played and she was always one of my favorites,” Durocher said. “I was not only impressed with her skill, but with how hard she worked. She has a great left foot. She’s one of my special players and now she’s here. If she still played, she’d still probably be one of the best players out there.”

Lilly, apparently not superstitious as she wore No. 13 throughout her playing career, will be available for autographs today around 3:30 on Sandy MacAllister Field. Durocher has invited the general public to attend, including all area youth soccer players.

“We hope to fill the soccer stadium today. Everyone is welcome,” Durocher said.

Lilly has filled many soccer stadiums in her career and looks forward to the further growth of the sport.

“The women’s game has come a long way and it’s still growing. It’s a process. Every game at the last World Cup was televised on ESPN, so the sport is growing,” said Lilly, who is looking forward to watching friends and former teammates compete in the upcoming London Olympics. “I was a player for a long time, and now I’m a going to be a big fan.”

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