Suspension, Uneven Play Suggest Solo's Time Is Over
August 25, 2016
ON WEDNESDAY, U.S. Soccer announced a six-month suspension for goalkeeper Hope Solo and, shortly thereafter, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported that the federation also terminated Solo’s national team contract.
In a press release, U.S. Soccer stated that the suspension resulted from Solo’s “unacceptable” comments following the United States’ Olympic quarterfinal exit to Sweden and “past incidents involving Hope, as well as the private conversations we've had requiring her to conduct herself in a manner befitting a U.S. National Team member.”
This is the letter informing Hope Solo her contract with the USWNT has been terminated. pic.twitter.com/MtYwV9S6ed— Liz Mullen (@SBJLizMullen) August 25, 2016
For those who might not be intimately familiar with Solo’s “past incidents,” they include calling out head coach Greg Ryan and fellow national team goalkeeper Briana Scurry after the 2007 World Cup, a Twitter rant against former national team member Brandi Chastain during the 2012 Olympic Games, and her husband’s drunk driving arrest in 2015.
In that incident, Solo allowed her intoxicated husband to drive one of U.S. Soccer’s vans during a national team camp in California. Reports after the incident also claimed Solo herself was intoxicated and belligerent during the traffic stop that led to the arrest.
Solo is also still facing domestic violence charges stemming from an arrest in June 2014.
Following the announcement of the suspension and the reported termination of her U.S. contract, many began to wonder if this latest episode signifies the end of Solo’s career with the U.S. women’s national team.
"I think they're just fed up with Hope Solo's antics. This could mean the end to her with the USWNT." - @alywagner— SiriusXM FC (@SiriusXMFC) August 25, 2016
Solo’s comments about Sweden after the U.S.’ penalty kick loss in Brazil were unfortunate, but outside of using the words “cowards” and “cowardly”—worse considering the spirit of the Olympic Games—Solo was simply expressing frustration with Sweden’s overly defensive tactics (a criticism fans and pundits repeated over and over again as Sweden played their way to a silver medal).
Solo’s remarks also came only minutes after a brutally disappointing finish—the U.S. had never failed to win a medal in previous Olympic competitions—and are similar to comments many other soccer players and coaches have made in similar situations.
The six-month ban itself also seems excessive, but does come in the context of Solo’s history of controversies.
30 days for enabling life-threatening drunk driving in US team van. 6 mos and contract termination for trash talk. https://t.co/1agPosZfVP— Luke Cyphers (@LurkCyphers) August 25, 2016
This is what's known as the "lifetime achievement suspension" https://t.co/RL0NiwqwnN— Seth Vertelney (@svertelney) August 24, 2016
That said, Solo’s recent on-field performances should be leading U.S. head coach Jill Ellis in a different direction regardless. Prior to the Olympics, Solo’s subpar play for her club, the Seattle Reign, had already become a source of concern. In the Olympics, Solo did play well against France, but then suffered through arguably the worst performance of her career in the U.S.’ next match against Colombia.
Solo’s decline, admittedly coming down from a status few could achieve, is also not really all that surprising. The netminder is already 35-years-old and will be 37 years old by the time the 2019 World Cup kicks off.
Furthermore, the U.S.’ backup options at the moment—as talented as they are—have almost no game experience at the international level. The team’s No. 2, Alyssa Naeher, has only seven international caps. The No. 3 option, Ashlyn Harris, has only eight appearances for the U.S. and has not earned a single minute of playing time in the U.S.’ 19 matches in 2016.
With 34 months until the next major competition, the time is now for the U.S. to begin looking forward. It must take the opportunity to get Naeher and Harris minutes and perhaps even look beyond the current pool. That way, even if Solo does regain her status with the team and earns a recall, the U.S. will not be beholden to Solo as the only realistic option to start.
Both Naeher and Harris are excellent keepers in their own right, with the former displaying fine form in the National Women’s Soccer League over the past several seasons and the latter playing exceptionally well in two difficult friendlies against France and England in early 2015 (when Solo was serving a previous suspension).
Working Naeher and Harris into the lineup on a frequent basis would also give Ellis and U.S. Soccer leverage should Solo have more problems in the future. In the past, more than a few pundits have come to believe the federation has been reticent to punish Solo knowing that the team needed her to compete at the highest level.
Using the next three years to get Naeher and Harris international experience against top sides would negate that dependence going forward.
While Solo’s post-Olympic comments were regrettable and many fans will argue whether or not the crime fits the punishment, Solo’s suspension now offers the U.S. and Ellis an opportunity to take the goalkeeping position into the future. They should take that opportunity and run with it.
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.