There is nothing simple about Hope Solo’s legacy. She is one of the United States women’s national team’s best players in history, and she is also its most infamous – the latter title not always fair but, indeed, earned.
This summer, that paradox was on display again, to an extreme, in just a matter of weeks. And in this case, it hardly felt like “fair” was a word for it.
Solo hit the century mark – 100 shutouts – with the U.S.’ clean-sheet victory over South Africa on July 9. She would earn two more over the next month, both at the Olympics. That tournament ended abruptly for the Americans, and it brought a mixed bag of performances from Solo, from spectacular against France to terrible against Colombia.
Soon, none of that mattered.
“A bunch of cowards,” were the words Solo used on August 12 in the wake of defeat. She was describing Sweden’s defensive, counter-attacking mentality in sending the U.S. women home at the quarterfinal stage for the first time ever in a major tournament. Sweden prevailed on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes.
The words were met with a truly bizarre level of domestic and international outrage, with social media platforms adding gasoline to the fire in tweet-sized snippets.
Solo was accused of poor sportsmanship in Brazil, Sweden and at home even by her federation’s own president, Sunil Gulati. Two weeks later, on August 24, U.S. coach Jill Ellis and USSF CEO Dan Flynn flew to Seattle to tell the goalkeeper that her international career was (ostensibly) over. She was suspended for six months and her national-team contract was terminated.
U.S. Soccer cited an accumulation of grievances on Solo’s part, but that rang hollow to many. The federation had stood by Solo’s right to due process when she was accused of domestic violence (a case still not closed) and it suspended her for 30 days in 2015 after she was the passenger in a team van that her husband, Jerramy Stevens, drove drunk during U.S. training camp.
Solo’s contract termination – a firing, in layman’s terms – was a story which took on a life of its own in the wake of Olympic failure. Would it have mattered so much if any other member of the team had uttered those same words? It’s doubtful.
But Solo’s declaration that the Swedish tactics (deployed by the coach, Pia Sundhage, who revived Solo’s internationalcareer) and the federation’s subsequent reaction became a defining story in 2016 for the U.S. women’s national team, the sport and even the Olympics from a U.S. perspective. More people are likely to recall the details of the Ryan Lochte and Hope Solo sagas than they are most actual competitive performances.
What is next for Solo remains unclear. She has kept a relatively low profile since the contract termination. She had shoulder surgery after deciding she would not continue playing the final weeks of the NWSL season with Seattle Reign FC. In her few public appearances since, she has suggested that playing in Europe is an option. It doesn’t seem that we have seen the last of active goalkeeper Hope Solo, but we may have seen the last of United States national team-member Hope Solo.
Solo’s current – and, potentially final – international stats see her posting 102 clean sheets in 202 career matches for the United States, an astounding number unlikely to be matched by anyone in the near future. No other goalkeeper has ever accumulated 100 career international shutouts. Ashlyn Harris, who sat behind Solo for the better part of the past decade, is the most experienced goalkeeper earning regular U.S. call-ups. She has 11 career international caps.
The legacy of Hope Solo is a complicated one. Missteps off the field can’t be presented without unparalleled performances on the field and vice versa. History will show 2016 as one of those years we remember Solo for what went on away from the field, but the federation has a big role in that, too. As usual, it’s complicated.