Hope Solo is the best women’s goalkeeper in the world right now and if she’s not the best to ever play for a women’s national team, she’s certainly right up there.
To make this assessment, we have to delve into the past, of course, and compare Solo with the top-class goalies to have preceded her. There’s Americans -- Briana Scurry, Mary Harvey – to consider, as well as former German internationals Silke Rottenberg and Nadine Angerer, Norway’s near-legendary Bente Nordby, Gao Hong of China, and so on.
We bring up the past not to answer this pressing question and thus end all debate, but rather to illustrate how obsessed Solo seems to be with “the past” while she downplays, or ridicules, its importance. In the aftermath of the USA’s 3-0 Olympic Games victory over Colombia Saturday, Solo slammed former USA international Brandi Chastain, working as a commentator for NBC, for pointing out a perceived flaw in the play of Rachel Buehler.
Since she represented the USA as both a forward and a defender, and has been working in broadcasting for several years, Chastain would seem eminently qualified to make those observations that are part and parcel of being a trusted analyst. Chastain, though, is a member of the 1999 Women’s World Cup-championship team that Solo, who debuted for the national team the following year, seems haunted by.
After former coach Greg Ryan replaced Solo for a crucial 2007 Women’s World Cup semifinal against Brazil that the Americans lost, 4-0, with Scurry – another ’99 veteran and also the starting keeper on the 2004 Olympic gold-medal team – in her place, she pointedly remarked that past performances are no guarantee of success. True enough, but she did choose to make it personal.
“And the fact of the matter is it's not 2004 anymore,” said Solo to reporters back then. “It's not 2004. And it's 2007, and I think you have to live in the present. And you can't live by big names. You can't live in the past. It doesn't matter what somebody did in an Olympic gold medal game in the Olympics three years ago. Now is what matters, and that's what I think.”
Solo turned to Twitter this time, lashing out at Chastain with, among others, these comments: “Its 2 bad we cant have commentators who better represents the team&knows more about the game,” and this zinger at the past, “the game has changed from a decade ago.”
At a press conference Monday, Solo expanded on her tweets about Chastain. “It's not about what made me unhappy,” Solo said. “It's not about one game. I have my beliefs that the best commentators and the best analysts should be analyzing come Olympics, come World Cups, and it's only my opinion. You can take it or leave it, to be honest, so it's my opinion, and I think analysts and commentators should bring energy and excitement and passion for the game, and a lot of knowledge, and I think it's important to help build the game, and I don't think Brandi has that.”
Well, just as Chastain is free, if not obligated, to comment on and criticize the performances of the women’s team, so too is Solo within her rights to comment about a commentator’s comments. Many former U.S. players and coaches have turned to the broadcast booth, and if Solo believes a Cat Whitehill or Julie Foudy or Tony DiCicco, or Kyle Martino or Marcelo Balboa or Taylor Twellman, for that matter, is better qualified to analyze the U.S. play, she is certainly entitled to say so. But why those digs at the past?
Suspicion abounds that Solo is ramping up her persona to help sell a memoir that will be released Aug. 14, two days after the Closing Ceremony, yet she’s never been shy about shooting off zingers. Like many athletes, she probably believes she was kept in the shadows too long and deserved the starting job long before she got it. That’s a good subject for debate but hard to resolve either way.
Solo had a hiatus from the national team after the 2007 Women’s World Cup and regained her starting spot in time to claim an Olympic gold medal the following year. She’s been the unquestioned starter ever since despite a layoff due to shoulder problems, and at this Olympics has maybe only Japanese goalie Miho Fukumoto and Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl as worthy rivals. But her size (5-foot-9), quickness, and agility set her apart. She has the tools and confidence most women's keepers simply cannot match.
In her remarks about Scurry and Chastain, as well as snarky remarks last year about a lot of people wanting her booted off “Dancing With The Stars” after her first performance, she stood up for herself, or in the case of Buehler, a teammate. Too bad she didn’t consider the circumstances of two other former teammates who had the temerity, like her, to be themselves.