Call her the Oliver Kahn or Gianluigi Buffon of women's soccer for her authoritative presence between the posts; or Iker Casillas for her acrobatics; Hope Solo has arguably been the best female goalkeeper in the globe in the past decade.
Known for her dogged defense and stubborn resolve, the 5’9’’ American goalkeeper has denied the best of forwards from intruding into her territory. Her lightning-quick reflexes, ability to read match situations with precision and making the right calls in split seconds have taken her to great heights. In a staggering 202 international appearances, Solo has managed an equally astounding 102 clean sheets, helping her side win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in Beijing and London and the World Cup in Canada in 2015.
Standing in front of her goal like a wall for the past 17 years, the 35-year-old has won over fans with her remarkable shot-stopping adroitness. But, her on-field achievements have been overshadowed by her off-field conduct, and a six-month ban and termination of her contract by U.S. Soccer for her latest rant could well mean a sad end to a glowing career.
Last week, Solo was suspended for reportedly calling the Sweden team “a bunch of cowards,” after the European side eliminated the Americans in the quarterfinals of the Olympic Games in Rio. The game that ended in a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes was won 4-3 in the shootout by the Swedes.
Angered by the defensive approach of the opponents, the U.S. goalkeeper took a dig at them, which didn’t go down well with the country’s soccer authorities, who termed the comments “unacceptable”. She was duly suspended from international football for a period of six months without pay, whilst her contract was also terminated.
Pia Sundhage, the Swede coach, who was in charge of the U.S. team that captured two golds at the Summer Games, is said to have replied by saying, “It’s OK to be a coward if you win.”
Many believe the punishment meted out to her is too harsh, as it’s common in sports for players to come down hard at their opponents for their tactics. But, this is not the first time that Solo has stirred up a controversy. U.S. Soccer has patiently dealt with its ace shot-stopper, whose brilliance on the field has helped her evade any sever action in the past.
2007 run-in with the coach
Solo’s first outburst that grabbed international attention came in the 2007 World Cup when she lambasted the U.S. coach, Greg Ryan, for benching her in the semi-final against Brazil, after she had brought the U.S. this far with three clean sheets in four games.
The ploy of going with the experienced Briana Scurry, who had done well against the Brazilians in the past, backfired as the U.S. were handed a 4-0 shellacking. Solo lashed out at the coach, saying it was a “wrong decision” and she “would have made the saves”. The players disapproved her outrageous comments and the keeper was kept out of the team. She didn’t even feature in the third-place playoff that the U.S. won 4-1 against Norway.
2014 arrest on domestic charges
In June 2014, an allegedly intoxicated Solo was arrested on charges of domestic violence against her sister and nephew. The case was later dismissed before being reinstated. Solo still faces trial in the incident, however, she has maintained that she was a victim in the entire episode.
Despite the charges, Solo continued playing domestic football and even stayed on the roster for the 2015 World Cup team, which came under heavy criticism.
Previous suspension and more troubles
Solo was also handed a 30-day suspension in 2015 for misconduct after her husband, a former NFL player, was arrested for driving a U.S. soccer bus under the influence. The U.S. goalkeeper was in the van and therefore, was given the ban.
Even her stint at the dance reality show, “Dancing With The Stars,” ended on a sour note after she alleged her partner of “manhandling” her, allegations that were denied by her partner.
And then before the start of the Rio games, Solo posted pictures on social media showing her head covered in a mosquito net, which drew Zika chants from the Brazilian crowds every time she touched the ball during the initial games.
The big question
A career tarnished by a history of altercations and disagreements brings us to one question: Will Solo be remembered as a champion footballer or will her off-field antics take the sheen off her on-field triumphs?
It takes a lot to carry the hopes of a nation on one’s shoulders, but when a sportsperson reaches the heights of greatness, it brings with it an added responsibility: They are not playing for their country’s pride alone but are global ambassadors of the sport and a role model for billions across the globe. Their conduct and behaviour have a direct impact on the young minds that admire their accomplishments and dream of emulating their feats one day.
Those who stay grounded without being blinded by the light achieve immortality, while those who begin to think that they are bigger than the game only bring disrepute to the sport and are never remembered for their glorious acts. And it’s not just the dopers and match-fixers who shame their sport, even those who use venomous remarks for their opponents, to either insult them or mock them, are a disgrace.
While winning at all cost for the sake of team’s pride is important, accepting the outcome, be it win or loss, with grace is even more important.
Chance for redemption?
Solo later posted on Facebook: “I could not be the player I am without being the person I am, even when I haven’t made the best choices or said the right things. My entire career, I have only wanted the best for this team, for the players and the women’s game and I will continue to pursue these causes with the same unrelenting passion with which I play the game.”
This was followed by her decision to end her season with her club, the Seattle Reign, as she said on her Facebook page that she was mentally not there and feels “devasted’ for being “fired after 17 years of service.”
Only time will tell if she makes a comeback; however, given her achievements, it would not be a surprise to see her getting one last shot at redemption; a chance to bid the sport goodbye in a fitting manner; like a champion.Published 31 Aug 2016, 19:24 IST