By Mike Woitalla
Hope Solo's memoir, released days after she helped the USA win gold at the 2012 London Games, debuted at No. 3 on the New York Times bestseller list. The goalkeeper's propensity for controversy and the promise of revealing details from her battles with coaches, teammates (and even a dance partner) undoubtedly boosted sales. The book also provides a glimpse into the youth soccer days of the world's best female goalkeeper.
"Solo: A Memoir of Hope," co-written with Ann Killion, is a PG-13 read that recounts Solo’s troubled childhood -- her house was “a battlefield, a war zone of screaming, swearing, and disrespect”; her father was at times imprisoned and homeless. Soccer provided the sanctuary.
“Life was calm and ordered on the soccer field. … I felt free and unburdened when I was on the soccer field,” writes Solo. “… Luckily for me, I was growing up in a time when active little girls could finally turn to organized sports.”
Her first team, at age 5, was the Pink Panthers, and she found great joy dribbling “through all the other kids” and scoring lots of goals.
In third grade, she joined a different rec team and met her best friend (Cheryl) of the next decade. Rarely did Solo play goalkeeper:
“My strength and aggression were a plus -- I dominated as a forward. Back then, no coach would have dreamed of taking me off the field and sticking me in goal. I was a playmaker. Sure, if our team needed a goalkeeper, I was perfectly willing to fill in for a half -- some kids didn’t have the stomach for it, but I didn’t care. I was fearless. But I was too good an athlete to be stuck in goal.”
In middle school, Solo's team moved up to select soccer. “We were expected to travel to tournaments. And costs were involved, which made it difficult for my family.” But Cheryl’s family and Solo's coaches helped out with transportation and meals on the rode.
Solo was assigned a middle-school paper on what she wanted to be when she grew up. “It was then I decided: I am going to be a professional soccer player. I was dreaming of something that didn’t exist.”
At 13, she went to an Eastern Washington ODP tryout, hoping to impress as a forward. But goalkeepers were in short supply. The ODP coaches were aware of Solo’s goalie skills because she had shone during a club tournament in Oregon when she had filled in for her team’s injured keeper. At the ODP gathering, she was placed in goal with the U-16s.
For club and high school, Solo remained a field player, but she climbed the ODP ranks as a keeper and started getting attention from college coaches. When her mother was laid off from her job at the Hanford nuclear production complex, and her stepfather on disability, they were set to file for bankruptcy and told Solo she couldn’t continue with ODP. “It’s just very expensive,” her mother said.
Solo saw her dream of college ball collapsing:
“If I couldn’t play ODP, if I couldn’t get a college scholarship, I was going to be stuck in Richland [Wash.] my entire life. I was probably going to end up at Hanford, cleaning up nuclear waste.”
What she didn’t know was that members of her community were already chipping in to cover her club and ODP costs. Her coaches helped her raise money for ODP and eventually she received aid from state and regional programs.
She entered the national team program at the U-17 level and played college ball at the University of Washington. She played pro ball in WUSA, Sweden, France and WPS, has appeared in 124 games for the USA, and owns two Olympic gold medals.
"Solo: A Memoir of Hope," by Hope Solo with Ann Killion. Hardcover, 304 pages, HarperCollins 2012.