U.S.'s Solo Out to Beat Brazil, Not Her Past

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 18 -- So here she was again in China, in a media mixed zone, a backpack slung across her shoulder and Hope Solo was going to have to talk about Brazil again. Ten months ago this very moment was disaster, words spilling in anger, piling upon themselves until she had buried herself so deep it seemed she would never be able to crawl back to here, to the Olympics, to a gold medal game against -- wouldn't you know it -- Brazil.

For a moment Monday night, the goalie tensed. Then she quietly exhaled.

"That has nothing to do with this," she said curtly. "That was 10 months ago. Our team is playing so well right now."

In the Beijing Workers Stadium outside, the scoreboard said the U.S. women's soccer team had beaten Japan, 4-2, in an Olympic semifinal, setting up a final on Thursday against Brazil. When Solo heard after the game that it was Brazil they would be facing, she was sitting in the room where they have the athletes give urine samples for drug tests and right there in the doping control room she began to dance and scream and clap.

Ten months ago, in a semifinal of the women's World Cup against Brazil held a three-hour flight away in the city of Hangzhou, Solo was benched for her backup Briana Scurry. Scurry lost 4-0 and when Solo made her way through a mixed zone much like the one here she was stopped by a television reporter and uttered those fateful words: "There is no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves."

This led to her excommunication; to a banishment so severe it seemed impossible to think she would play for the U.S. team again. And yet there she was, perhaps this team's most stable presence through these Olympics, helping to pull the Americans through after leading scorer Abby Wambach broke her leg just before the Games. As the questions came about redemption she said:

"I think it would be nice to play Brazil and want to reclaim what you wanted to have."

Not for herself, she said. But for her team.

The U.S. team has gotten stronger as the Olympics have gone on. After a 2-0 loss to Norway in the first game, it appeared as if the team was doomed following the loss of Wambach, taking not only a scorer but a leader. Then came victories over Japan, New Zealand and Canada. And then on Monday, Japan again. Other players have emerged in Wambach's absence -- most notably former University of Virginia star Angela Hucles, who scored two goals on Monday. This has revived them, Solo said, given them a new life, a new spirit. More importantly, a new identity.

In recent months this team has lived in the shadow of the previous U.S. women's teams, finding it difficult to match a standard set by other Olympic and World Cup champions. When the U.S. women arrived in town over the weekend, after playing all preliminary games in other cities, they walked into a news conference and were stunned to hear questions wondering how they could overcome the loss of Wambach and wondering if their advancement to the semifinals was a result of good fortune in that they didn't have to face the favorites, Brazil and Germany.

This irked the women in the room.

"We were all kind of shocked by the press conference for sure," midfielder Heather O'Reilly said. "Just because we don't have one star doesn't mean we aren't a good team. We went back and told everyone on the team. It definitely fired me up."

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