Commentary

Farewell, Hope Solo

By Mike Woitalla
(@MikeWoitalla)

I have admired Hope Solo for many reasons.

I’ve sent YouTube clips of Solo’s highlights to goalkeepers I’ve trained, because I believe that players learn more by imitating stars than from listening to coaches’ advice.

And I believe there’s no doubt that by example, Solo, the best known women’s soccer player since Mia Hamm, has raised the level of U.S. goalkeeping by inspiring young players.

For more than a decade, the USA has had a goalkeeper with athleticism and shot-stopping skills the world had never seen. One of the biggest criticisms of the women’s games had been the quality of goalkeeping -- and Solo destroyed every prejudice about female goalkeepers.

When I interviewed her by phone in 2009 for a youth soccer story, I found her insightful, friendly -- and good-humored despite me interrupting her on a Sunday afternoon to accommodate my deadline.

When the USA lost the 2011 World Cup final on penalty kicks to Japan, she was interviewed by ESPN on the field minutes after the game and responded so gracefully: “We lost to a great team. … I’m happy for them. They do deserve it.”

Two days after the game, on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” she relayed the anecdote about how Japanese midfielder Aya Miyama -- who scored and assisted -- instead of celebrating, came over to console Solo, a former teammate of hers with the Atlanta Beat.

"She wanted to show the Americans respect because she knew how much it hurt us," Solo said. "I had to tell her, 'Aya, you won the World Cup, the first time in your nation's history, celebrate please."

Four years before that, Solo gave the most infamous postgame interview in American soccer history after Coach Greg Ryan benched her in favor of Briana Scurry for 2007 World Cup semifinal against Brazil and the USA got blown out, 4-0. What Solo said got her kicked off the team for the bronze-medal game and pilloried by the press.

But I had no problem with what she did. In fact, I admired her for pointing out the obvious. What she said was the truth: “It was the wrong decision. And I think anybody who knows anything about the game knows that.”

To those who say Solo should have kept her thoughts to herself, I ask, How would you expect her to respond when a microphone was placed in front of her at the most disappointing moment of her career?

Ryan blew it, big time, when he benched his starting keeper who had only conceded three goals in the previous 13 games for a goalkeeper who saw just 45 minutes of action in the five months before the World Cup.

In 2012, I read the Solo memoir, co-written so superbly by Ann Killion, that recounts Solo’s childhood. Her house was “a battlefield, a war zone of screaming, swearing, and disrespect”; her absentee 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. … Luckily for me, I was growing up in a time when active little girls could finally turn to organized sports.”

And lucky for American soccer, that this tremendous athlete overcame challenges that we wouldn’t wish on anyone and became the greatest women’s goalkeeper the world has ever seen. Her talent has also made her a millionaire and ensured that she got breaks that less impressive players would not have been granted.

A lesser player would not have been retained by the national team amid domestic violence charges or after commandeering a team van with her drunk-driving husband. 

Obviously, U.S. Soccer was worried that the USA couldn’t win the 2015 World Cup without her. A reasonable assumption to make. There were enough games, such as the 2008 Olympic final, that the USA would have lost with a weaker keeper.

Before the 2012 Olympics, her participation was jeopardized when she tested positive for a banned substance, Canrenone, but the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) accepted her excuse and cleared her.

Before the 2016 Games, Solo threatened not to go because of the Zika virus scare. Absolutely, her fears were legit, but Solo managed to insult the nation of Brazil with her Twitter posts. Thanks to Solo, the fans at each game cheered against the USA.

And she performed woefully in Brazil. Both goals she conceded in the 2-2 tie against Colombia should have been easy saves. The first, through her legs, was blooper-reel material, and on the second she failed to reach a high free kick that with better positioning would have been an easy catch or punch.

On Sweden’s goal in the quarterfinal that ousted the USA, she failed Goalkeeping 101 by not leaving her line early to cut down the angle.

In the penalty kick shootout, she repeated the unsporting attempt to “ice” the shooter as she had against the Germans at the 2015 World Cup before a penalty kick she saved in a regulation time victory.

She took that disdainful gamesmanship to a new level when she changed her gloves as Sweden’s Lisa Dahlkvist stepped up the spot.

As my colleague Paul Kennedy pointed out, “It wasn't hard for neutrals to cheer when Dahlkvist fired her penalty kick into the net for the winning goal.”

But I think Solo tested even U.S. fans, who had to be disappointed that the one known as the world’s best keeper resorted to such a tactic. It looked more a sign of weakness than a clever psyche.

If the USA had won that game, it would have been a victory with a stain. Or worse yet, there may have been praise for Solo’s behavior and we’d start seeing more of this kind of bad sportsmanship.

One of the wonderful traits of the U.S. women’s national team is that they have been such superb role models. And when I talk about role-model behavior, I am limiting my judgments here to what occurs on the field -- not personal life.

The U.S. women’s national team has world-class defenders who rarely foul, attacking players with flair and skill who entertain fans and inspire younger generations, and a World Cup-winning coach, Jill Ellis, with sideline demeanor I wish all youth coaches took note of.

Solo has given a lot to American soccer, but has hardly demonstrated any gratitude for the opportunities and breaks it as given her. She became the chief complainer about U.S. Soccer and the NWSL, which despite flaws provide the only professional opportunities for women soccer players in the USA.

U.S. Soccer announced its six-month suspension of Solo citing her postgame comment calling the Swedes “a bunch of cowards,” along with a reference to her previous transgressions.

But Solo’s “coward” comment only made it easier for U.S. Soccer to end a rocky relationship. And even if she hadn’t besmirched the USA’s Olympic appearance, her national team career was headed to an end because of what she offers on the field. She played poorly in Brazil and she’ll be pushing 37 by the time the USA returns to competitive play.

The reality of the sport is that Ellis would need to replace her with a younger keeper for her team’s next chapter. Which would be the case even if Solo had played better at the Olympics, if her gamesmanship hadn’t failed, if she didn’t insult Brazil and Sweden.

The latest news is that Solo is taking indefinite "personal leave" from her club team, the NWSL's Seattle Reign.

And I’m leafing through her memoir again. Where she recounts her fears of not being able to afford club soccer or the Olympic Development Program:

“If I couldn’t play ODP, if I couldn’t get a college scholarship, I was going to be stuck in Richland [Washington] my entire life. I was probably going to end up at Hanford, cleaning up nuclear waste.”

But her coaches and members of her community raised the money. And she landed at the University of Washington and became the first goalkeeper in history to play more than 200 national team games. And she won three gold medals and a World Cup.

So much of Hope Solo’s career has been an American soccer success story. I wish it had a better ending. And that she fares well without the sport that brought happiness to her childhood.

22 comments about "Farewell, Hope Solo".
  1. Wooden Ships, August 29, 2016 at 9:53 a.m.

    Nice article Mike. I've been reluctant to comment on Hope and Brazil. After being lambasted and dismissed what kept reoccurring to me was how unique she is and was. The best ever, yes, the most polarizing, yes, is there a difference here between women and men and the expectations, yes. You mention her, fight/struggle, to survive her youth is personal and poignant. Hope has much depth due to life. More so than your typical US soccer player. We have discounted probably thousands of children, that had family challenges or personality quirks in order to not have the worries. I'm so glad Hope made it and recommend she stay involved, because she can reach kids that most adults won't bother with.

  2. Tim Gibson, August 29, 2016 at 10:21 a.m.

    I agree with all that has been said about her & we should all be saddened that she continues to battle with the demons of her upbringing.
    Both the Women's & Men's National teams also need to take a lesson learned from this though. As we continue to pull kids into our programs from all corners of the Earth & various social backgrounds - exposing them into high stressed situations that are likely new to them. We need to be fully prepared to counsel them off the pitch as I'm sure we already do & hold their hands when learning skills quite different than their amazing physical gifts that got them to this level. But in hindsight it's now very easy to see that Hope was in need of something more. No doubt she has made many bad decisions & let's face it, we all figured there was more to come. On several occasions she was obviously struggling with how to deal with many situations but perhaps her needs could have been better served by the program & its resources?

  3. Wooden Ships replied, August 29, 2016 at 12:27 p.m.

    I agree Tim.

  4. Kevin Leahy, August 29, 2016 at 10:33 a.m.

    The federation used Hope Solo until they were done with her. A male athlete would have been not of had the same expectations that are with WNT. Why do we have such a problem with someone who is outside the box? What came out of her mouth was wrong but, it didn't hurt anyone but her.

  5. barbara jesberger-mcintosh, August 29, 2016 at 10:37 a.m.

    A great article about Hope Solo but I think you missed the point of why she was thrown off the team . She was needed anymore , no matches to win . She was disposable . It's seems that US soccer and others have a vanditta . What I see and others who can see through the politics is this is clearly an act of retailiation and vindictiveness and not withstanding a total double standard . Some men have clearly done worse than her and still compete in their sports without punishment . The punishment doesn't fit the crime in this case . They should all be ashamed of themselves . I wonder how they can sleep at night .

  6. Ginger Peeler replied, August 29, 2016 at 1:07 p.m.

    Tommie Smith and John Carlos were also punished for their failure to act in a manner keeping with the Olympic spirit. At the time, they were supported by the United States, but the IOC kicked them out of the games and sent them home. Their track careers were finished (back then, only amateurs competed, no pros). And pro baseball, basketball and football in the United States all been chewing up their players and spitting them out as soon as lose their edge since forever, seems like. It's difficult for us, as fans, to see our favorite players dropped from teams. But the owners of those teams know we, the fans, have short attention spans and will quickly find new, young, talented athletes to replace our old favorites.

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, August 29, 2016 at 6:06 p.m.

    Your opinion as to the reason Solo was thrown off the team is speculation. I could speculate that Solo was thrown off the team for filing the EEOC complaint to set an example for the other players, but I won't. All we know is what we read in the media, and that is not much help at all in understanding what is happening.

  8. Nalin Carney, August 29, 2016 at 10:54 a.m.

    Great Article Mike. She may be done with soccer but I can't wait to see where else she will show up. She is the "greatest".

  9. Tom Maegerle, August 29, 2016 at 11:02 a.m.

    Unlike field players, the very best keepers don't peak until their 30's and can maintain strong play into their 40's. I don't think Hope is done yet unless she wants it to be done. This was not her best tournament, but she is they type of competitor who can put it behind her and come back as the best in the world again. She obviously has a penchant for making bad personal decisions, but everyone has their flaws. Hers are just magnified under the light of public scrutiny.

  10. Mark Calcat, August 29, 2016 at 11:05 a.m.

    Thank you for a balanced and thoughtful article. Hope is an amazing competitor and deserves to be remembered for both her skills in goal and her demons outside of sport. With the antics of Colin Kaepernick fresh in our minds, Hope's knee jerk response to the Sweden loss is nearly insignificant. US Soccer and Ms. Solo would be well served by keeping her around to train future goalkeepers.

  11. Kevin Sims, August 29, 2016 at 11:32 a.m.

    Nice piece.

  12. John Soares, August 29, 2016 at 12:58 p.m.

    Well done Mike. "IF" this is the end(?) It's too bad the best goal keeper ever had to go out this way. While "polarizing" is a good fit/description of her. She has often been correct in her criticisms. Her performance at the Olympics, on and the field, "the glove" off the field "zika", "cowards" comments were probably a low point, at the worse time. However, that this was a convenient time is certainly no excuse for the poor handling of the situation by USS.

  13. Vince Leone, August 29, 2016 at 1:02 p.m.

    Mike makes a number of good points, but complaining about "icing" a penalty kick taker is overblown. That is just one case of the many examples of gamesmanship that happens in pretty much any game at any level. I also think the reaction to the mosquito-repellent post was exaggerated. (And given that fans started to chant "Zika" at every goalkeeper who opposed Brazil--man or woman, I suspect that it was a phenomenon that simply caught on and didn't reflect much more than that.)

  14. Karen Willoughby, August 29, 2016 at 2:01 p.m.

    Hope's temper can land her in trouble, yet it is the same intensity that has created her drive for perfection. She needs mentors.. she needs people in her life that care about how she is perceived and can provide some much needed advice. Did US Soccer give up after her personal attacks in negotiations? Is she open to realizing she needs to work with her bosses? Regardless, her game against France was incredible. She kept them in the game and allowed the US to advance as first seed. Don't forgot that highlight in the Olympics. There were bigger soccer stories at the Olympics than Hope. But, somehow Hope pulls in the media. She pulls in millions of viewers that otherwise wouldn't watch.

  15. Michael Saunders, August 29, 2016 at 2:49 p.m.

    I for one was not pleased at the remarks made by Hope Solo. Yet as many have stated this punishment fails the litmus test of fairness in so many ways. One can point to CR7's comment post the Iceland match, to Suarez receiving a 4 month ban for a "third" bite... and to other more heinous and embarrassing acts committed by male players that have not been dealt with to such a degree. I could go one but my feelings are synopsized best by Shirred's Ahmed's recent article in the GUARDIAN on this matter when he says:

    "The goalkeeper’s remarks after crashing out of the Olympics were tactless, but her suspension proves female athletes are unjustly held to a higher standard".

    Let's be clear, this not just a "suspension" this was a "firing" or "termination" if you will. As one person stated so succinctly recently why is it that we are giving Solo a potentially fatal blow to her career and legacy when we ignore the ugly moral failures of private failings of Kobe Bryant or Michael Phelps, and other athletes while letting the "positivity" of their legacies thrive? Does Hope Solo not deserve the same? Or perhaps more importantly...don't young girls and women deserve the same?

  16. stewart hayes, August 29, 2016 at 5:14 p.m.

    Yes M Saunders, I agree 'she stepped out of line and must be punished' attitude almost feels like a personal problem of Gulati with her. Mike W I doubt it's farewell since she has a good 5 years left and no need to jump the gun unless you know something we don't. She has not announced anything and we're saying goodbye? I've always been intrigued by her move from an outstanding high school forward to goalkeeper in college. It makes the coach in me wonder why we have players specialize so early as goalkeepers. US soccer made much too much of an issue out of her post Olympic loss comments. We live in a hyper news world where many things people say are blown out of proportion by those who would sensor every errant thought people have. In so doing US soccer may have cut off the nose to spite the face by suspending her especially if she does wear USWNT jersey again.

  17. Gus Keri, August 29, 2016 at 5:48 p.m.

    No doubt that Solo had made a lot of mistakes in the past and deserved to be punished for them, but this current punishment reflects badly on US Soccer. They waited until she is no longer valuable to them and decided to punish her for something many players do and go unpunished for. Cristiano Ronaldo criticized Iceland in the same fashion and he didn't get punished for it. US Soccer could have made Solo pay some fine and maybe ban her for one or even three games and then stop calling her to the USWNT. they didn't have to make it look like she is monster. As a matter of fact, this punishment borders on Hypocrasy on the part of US Soccer.

  18. Bob Ashpole, August 29, 2016 at 5:56 p.m.

    Yes, Solo's post-match comments were not politically correct, but her analysis was correct in fact. The way she said it offended some people. I am not one of them. Her age is not a factor. Keepers generally have significantly longer careers than field players.

  19. James Madison, August 29, 2016 at 7:34 p.m.

    Whether US Soccer acted appropriately is beside the point. Hope Solo's life is the point. Mike forgets that Mike Ryan had good and sufficient reason based on Solo's off-the-field conduct not to start or play her against Japan in 2011. Tim has it spot on in noting Solo's continuing battles with the demons of her youth. They are no excuse, but we should understand them and keep encouraging her to battle onward.

  20. Ric Fonseca, August 29, 2016 at 7:36 p.m.

    Nice Article Mike W! As someone above comments, the US Soccer's knee jerk reaction is palpable and I must add pathetic. And I do not condone what she said about the Swedes, the punishment doesn't fit the crime, and so IMHO she was singled out for her steadfast verbosity. But wait, I am dumbfounded as hell as to why Lochte, the swimmer has not been equally admonished? It sure as hell stinks of a double standard. So I say to those that meted out her sentence, please do not throw stones in your glass house.

  21. cisco martinez, August 31, 2016 at 11:39 p.m.

    Sunil gulati needs to be fired and held accountable for kilnsann, Donovan exempt from the world cup, not making the Olympics in two consecutive times, andnthe hope solo saga. If he had any dignity he would resign.

  22. Kerry Solomon, September 4, 2016 at 10:37 a.m.

    I agree with many of the comments. Yes, you are entitled to express your opinions but you need to use your head as to when you do that and when you withhold that opinion. When you wear that jersey, you represent the entire country. Ms. Solo would never had had the opportunities or have benefited without US Soccer. US Soccer is far from flawless. The women should be paid the same as the men...period. No debate.
    But when you represent our country, you need to display your skill, desire and appropriate sportmanship.
    Ms. Solo was possibly the best keeper in the world but her performance in Brazil was weak. It is probably time for her to be phased out but US Soccer did not handle the situation well.
    PS Penalty kicks are her major weakness...not very good at it.

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