Women’s football | Hope Solo earns our truth-telling award

With a midnight neighborhood fusillade of semi-automatic gunfire fresh in memory—the Second Amendment kept safe for yet another year—we still have time to remember 2007 and to inaugurate an award for truth-telling in world football. The first recipient—and the award henceforth shall be named in her honor—is Hope Amelia Solo, who stood tall in goal for the U.S. national team at the Women’s World Cup and again when defending her version of truth after a bizarre goalkeeper switch before a Sept 27 semifinal versus Brazil.

After these statements following the Brazil semifinal, Solo said she reached “an all-time low” and considered quitting the sport.

“It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that. There’s no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves,” Solo said, in words that could be blocked and serifed on some future monument. She had been confronted after the 0–4 loss by a crew from Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and spoke her piece.

Greg Ryan, the manager who had benched Solo in favor of Briana Scurry, removed Solo’s name from the team sheet for the subsequent third-place match. In one of the most brazen examples of circling the wagons around a fragile collective, Solo further was banned from the bronze-medal ceremony and not allowed to fly home with the team. The way events played out, a fiction writer could not have chosen a better name for her character.

Solo’s motivation during the tournament had come from emotionally laden rituals of remembrance for her recently deceased father, Jeffrey. She scattered his ashes in goal before each match at the World Cup in China and kept watch for her brother in the stands; he wore an armband bearing their late father’s initials. She had been unscored upon in the tournament for nearly 300 minutes.

“That broke my heart,” Solo told Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune in December, describing seeing her brother at the World Cup semifinal. “It tore me up inside … I broke.”

Zeigler deserves an assist for placing Solo’s truth-telling in the proper frame in a series of Union-Tribune articles (“No Longer Flying Solo, Hopeful It’s in the Past,” Dec 19; “Who’s Sorry Now? It Shouldn’t Be Hope Solo,” Oct 17; “Blame Federation for U.S. Performance in Women’s World Cup,” Oct 3). Solo’s statements, in Zeigler’s reading, proved a reliable diversion following the most embarrassing loss in American women’s soccer history and helped cover the shortcomings of a coach and federation ill-suited to preparing a national side for the cultural and tactical complexities of world football.

Ryan at the tournament—perhaps knowing his side would be outmatched technically by Brazil—reached for a uniquely American solution, from the bag of tricks of the American football coach. When in doubt, call on a specialist: “Bri is a great matchup because of her quickness and agility against a team that creates chances in the box off the dribble, off quick combinations,” Ryan said before the fact. “Bri’s reaction time, and it has been tested recently, is by far the fastest I have ever heard of.”

Whether the coach of a men’s side would have reacted in similar fashion to his goalkeeper’s undisguised rebellion is an open question. Perhaps women are held even more rigidly to the team concept than their male counterparts … we cannot be certain. In north London, however—and no doubt in club sides worldwide, in leagues big and small—we have a goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann of Arsenal, in a months-long feud with his manager, Arsène Wenger, over lack of selection to the first team. Yet there Lehmann sits on match days, grinding his teeth, arms folded, body language testifying to a festering cancer in the Gunners’ match-winning machine.

The Solo affair provides a case study of the so-called wisdom of the collective, in Aung San Suu Kyi‘s memorable phrase, masquerading as common sense—the story of the emperor’s new clothes in different guise. On Solo’s MySpace page, source unnamed, she offers the following aphorism: “If you truly expect to realize your dreams, abandon the need for blanket approval. If conforming to everyone else’s expectations is the number one goal, you have sacrificed your uniqueness and, therefor [sic] your excellence.”

Fortunately, looking to the year ahead, Pia Sundhage of Sweden is the new national coach, and Solo, 26, is still in goal. The United States plays Canada Jan 16 in the Four Nations Tournament in Foshan, China.


  • Solo made a successful return to China on 16 Jan 08, starting in a 4–0 U.S. victory over Canada in the Four Nations Tournament. “I was scared. I was frightened. I didn’t know what it would be like with the team,” Solo said of a reconstituted side under new coach Sundhage. “But everyone has shown so much determination to move on.” The United States won the tournament for the third straight time with additional victories over Finland and China.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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