Solo still has chance to prove people wrong

By Ridge Mahoney

Just how much more rope is U.S. Soccer willing to give Hope Solo?

Apparently some, but not much. She’s back in the women’s national team squad to compete in the annual Algarve Cup, her 30-day suspension having conveniently expired in time for her to travel to Portugal. The USA women face Norway, Switzerland and Iceland in preliminary play, then conclude the competition in a placement game against an opponent to be determined.

None of those three group opponents are threats to win the Women’s World Cup in Canada this June, but in its placement game the U.S. will likely face one of the favorites. Germany, Japan, Brazil and France are all potential foes and will be confident of beating the USA with or without Solo. The latter two nations have beaten the USA within the last three months.

The USA has many issues to address leading up to the World Cup, yet Solo’s return and long-term future with the national team will command great attention. Would her absence significantly lessen the women’s chances to win a third World Cup? Depending on how you define “significantly,” I would say yes, simply because she’s significantly better than her rivals for the No. 1 shirt. Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher, who are on the Algarve Cup roster, and Nicole Barnhart, who isn't, are very good, but they aren’t Hope Solo.

The federation is in a very tough spot; she’s an outstanding athlete whose resume is pockmarked by disputes with teammates and legal skirmishes, and her latest run-in with the law and subsequent suspension won’t soon fade from the public forum. A fair portion of the U.S. Soccer community has expressed the view Solo shouldn’t be on the team at all, but on what justifiable grounds could the federation kick her off it?

As yet, her train-wreck personal life hasn’t affected performance. She’s definitely guilty of bad judgment and poor choices and -- assuming she doesn’t veer off the rails again -- will be on the federation’s version of double-secret probation until early July, when the World Cup ends. The saga won’t necessarily end there; at 33, she’s certainly capable of representing the U.S. next year at the 2016 Olympic Games, again assuming U.S. Soccer gives her that opportunity.

I’m as mystified by Solo as anybody else. On the field, she’s amazing. Off the field, she’s confounding. If even if she doesn’t seek out trouble – as per her bitter comments about being benched for the 2007 World Cup semifinal against Brazil – it seems to find her. She failed a drug test prior to the 2012 Olympics, she had a run-in with her husband in 2012 and married him the next day, and the soap opera goes on and on.

She’s not just a good keeper, she’s a great one, by far the most athletic and dynamic goalie to play the world’s game at the top level. She’s also fearless and decisive and sure-handed and powerful in the air, factors that separate her from most of her counterparts. She’s latest in a line of exceptional U.S. goalies. Dating back to the days of Mary Harvey, who played every minute when the Americans won the first women’s world championship in 1991, strength in goal has been a trademark of this program.

Solo's range, reflexes, quickness, bravery, and foot skills are unsurpassed. She and Nadine Angerer of Germany are the world’s best. It’s the recurring problems off the field that cast Solo into shadow.

Last month U.S. Soccer sent Solo home from a training camp and issued the suspension after police arrested her husband, Jerramy Stevens, for driving under the influence while behind the wheel of a van rented by U.S. Soccer. Solo, a passenger in the van, wasn’t charged but still U.S. Soccer suspended her. It also gave her specific instructions about her behavior going forward. Without supplying details, federation president Sunil Gulati and head coach Jill Ellis told reporters on a conference call that “there are a number of things that Hope is being asked to do.” Behavioral and substance counseling are believed to be among them but nothing has been confirmed.

Presumably, she’s done them. Regardless, she’s been reinstated to play at the Algarve Cup, where her performance last year raised some concerns. She had a few shaky moments in a 5-3 loss to Denmark and though her status as one of the world’s top female goalies is intact, she recently let a savable goal slither under her body in a 3-2 loss to Brazil Dec. 14. Harris was in goal when the Americans lost to France, 2-0, Feb. 8 in Lorient.

The federation opted not to discipline Solo last June in the wake of assault charges filed by her half-sister after Kirkland, Wash. police responded to a 911 call regarding a domestic dispute. Police arrested Solo after the half-sister and Solo’s nephew claimed the goalkeeper had attacked them.

She was to face two counts of assault in a trial scheduled to start Jan. 14, but those charges were dropped. Prosecutors cited inconsistencies in statements and lack of cooperation from the half-sister and nephew. A week later in Southern California, Stevens was arrested and the federation issued the suspension.

There can’t be any more last chances for Solo. If she screws up again, the federation can dismiss her with good and sufficient cause, to which that strident segment of fans would proclaim, “Good riddance!” The tricky question will be what to do if she plays well in Canada.

Whatever else she is, Solo is a warrior. She endured months of painful rehabilitation to heal and strengthen a rebuilt shoulder before the 2011 Women's World Cup and sat out three months with a painful wrist injury in 2013 that caused her to miss the Algarve Cup. She was in the nets when the USA lost to Japan on penalty kicks in the 2011 Women’s World Cup final and again a year later for the redemptive 2-1 victory that won the Olympic gold medal.

She's far removed from her youth, but a rough, angry childhood formed a manhole-cover sized chip on her shoulder. Her mother struggled with alcohol problems, her father bounced in and out of her life before he died of a heart attack two months before the 2007 World Cup. She sprinkled his ashes in her goalmouth before each game at that tournament. Her life growing up was nothing like the comfortable, suburban stereotype of an elite American player.

In her book, “Solo: A Memoir of Hope” she states one of her greatest motivations is proving people wrong. Between now and July 5, the date of the Women’s World Cup final, she can prove a lot to a lot of people, one way or the other. The rope is in her hands.

8 comments about "Solo still has chance to prove people wrong".
  1. Brent Crossland, February 25, 2015 at 2:34 p.m.

    Hope (US Soccer, you can listen in!):
    I sincerely wish you the best and hope that you can straighten things out and continue to play for the national team. I've always been impressed with your command of the area and the strength you give your defense; however . . . .
    I am NOT one of those people who believe that the only thing that matters is an athlete's on-field performance. More so than any other sport, the US Women are an example that is idolized by thousands of young girls who play the game. Anyone who has been to a US Women's game has seen the masses of screaming 12 year olds. You make think your purpose in life is to bring home another trophy. To me your purpose is what you mean to those kids and their future -- both in the sport and in life. Live up to it.

  2. barbara jesberger-mcintosh, February 25, 2015 at 4:17 p.m.

    Hope Solo is a supreme athlete who has a lot of unresolved issues in her life. At 33 years of age , she needs to let go of the past and forgive those who ruined her childhood . The only place that she probably feels sane and at peace is playing soccer . This was probably the only constant in her life. That being said she needs to evaluate her life and make drastic changes or she will never progress . If she can't do this by herself than she should be ordered into manadory counseling. I hope that she grows up and that someone in her life helps her. She is an adult and all the choices that she has made were made by her . It's time to change and only she can do it !!!!!

  3. Raymond Weigand, February 25, 2015 at 6:52 p.m.

    I enjoy the athletes who show a commitment to team work and the dynamic process of improvement ... not so much to the athletes who need to be committed. Tough choices for the Management ... find the right pattern of personalities or fit individuals into silos and 'hope' for the best.

  4. James Madison, February 25, 2015 at 7:04 p.m.

    I admire you borh for your sublime goalkeeping and also for your striking resemblance to Kim Novak, one of the most beautiful Hollywood actresses in history. I only hope you have found AA, which is significantly better than any alternative for dealing with alcoholism.

  5. John Soares, February 25, 2015 at 7:11 p.m.

    Sometimes we forget that these "young" athletes are simply young "people" they come in all shapes and sizes (positives and negatives) like anybody else. AND YET somehow they are all required to be models in all aspects of life... sorry not realistic. It's like asking a Miss America contestant to not only asses but resolve world hunger (actually asked) REALY!? Hope is an adult, I would hope that at 33 she would be in better control of her life/actions, for HER sake not anybody else's. I can only wish her the best on and OFF the field.

  6. Zoe Willet, February 26, 2015 at 1:01 a.m.

    This article, the comments, everything I have read is absolutely incredible to me! In the abuse episode, she did not plea-bargain, she was not tried and acquitted, no- they declined to prosecute, people! Innocent! And then they suspended her the next day? Good grief! Next, her husband gets a dui, she was just a passenger, and she catches more flac for that? Be real, people!

  7. Footballer Forever, February 26, 2015 at 12:53 p.m.

    Hopeless Soul does not have to prove "the world" wrong. She should prove to herself and change her ways because she's the "black sheep" of the US footballing world , but again, she might as well be an eggball player as she's inherited the ghetto ways from her insignificant other.

  8. Thomas Hosier, February 27, 2015 at 5:42 p.m.

    Well I'm with Zoe .... Unless there are more skeletons in the closet than the press has released and the haters are projecting I can't see anything that Hope Solo has done that is so aweful. As for speaking up when she got benched for the World Cup final .... well I applaud her for that .... she was totally screwed. Why should she have just sucked it up and moved on. As for the assualt suit ... that was in my opinion a joke! The nephew is 6'7" and she is 5'9" Lot's of American athletes were not very good role models ... unless you haters come up with something better ... she is still an An American Soccer Icon in my books. Go Hope Solo ... wishing you all the best as you go forward.

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