RIO DE JANEIRO — It’s called composure, and Hope Solo’s never been overburdened with a lot of that, or grace either. The U.S. women’s soccer team had their temperaments tested by a savvy, conservative Sweden in the Olympic quarterfinals and lost. Solo has spent years undermining their collective equilibrium, and this one’s on her.
She’s a chronically rattled and rattling soul, the American goalkeeper. Let’s face it: For every shiny marketing moment and big victory she’s been a part of, she’s given the U.S. a nasty unwanted drama. The victories usually smoothed over her behavior. Not this time. This time she went pure loser and lout.
After giving up the winning penalty kick to Sweden, Solo called her opponents “a bunch of cowards” for their conservative game plan. Now, who is the real coward here? Solo gave up three regulation goals in the past two games, between a draw with Colombia and this loss. She tried to ice Lisa Dahlkvist on the final kick by changing her gloves, and then couldn’t lay a hand on the ball. And she couldn’t take responsibility for any of it; she could only lash out.
“What she did was an act of panic,” Sweden’s goalie Hedvig Lindahl said later, giving a little of it back to Solo.
Sweden’s calculatedly frustrating game plan worked because the designer of that plan, Pia Sundhage, knew exactly whom she was dealing with, having coached the U.S. from 2008 to 2012. Told of Solo’s remarks in the postgame mixed zone, Sundhage said, “I don’t give a crap. I’m going to Rio, and she’s going home.”
Solo’s sore, hot-head remarks were personally aimed at Sundhage, who has made it clear just how much she had to put up with in Solo as the U.S. coach. There was always some trouble following Solo, stemming either from her irradiated blot-out-the-sun ego, or her temper.
Just before Sundhage’s arrival, Solo divided the 2007 World Cup team with a public tantrum over a benching. The 2012 Olympic gold medal came with an ugly public feud with Brandi Chastain and a positive drug test. After Chastain, now a commentator, mildly criticized the U.S. defense on air, Solo publicly told Chastain to “get more educated,” and added that “the game has changed from a decade ago,” and that it was too “bad 4 our fans that have 2 push mute.” Whatever the disagreement, Chastain played in 192 international games and scored the glorious penalty kick that won the 1999 World Cup, and she didn’t deserve that kind of snottiness from Solo, a player who profited heavily on the success of the program’s underpaid pioneers.
Sundhage declined to discipline Solo for that incident. Instead, she tried to talk calmly to her.
“We had a conversation: If you look at the women’s national team, what do you want [people] to see? What do you want them to hear?” the coach related to reporters. “And that’s where we do have a choice, as players, coaches, staff, the way we respond to certain things.”
The 2015 World Cup title was preceded by assault allegations against Solo after a fight with her half-sister and nephew. During a frank 2015 interview, Sundhage praised Solo’s talent but also called her “a piece of work.”
As social media erupted Friday night over Solo’s postgame insult of Sweden, the goalie seemed to realize she’d done herself additional public damage. But even then, her behavior was hardly courageous. Instead of apologizing she went on Twitter with what she framed as “the full context of my comments today,” and tweeted to Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, “Losing sucks. I’m really bad at it.”
Here is the clear, exact, and perfectly obnoxious context of Solo’s comments. Couching them in a long paragraph does nothing to soften them.
“I thought that we played a courageous game,” she said. “I thought we had many opportunities on goal. I think we showed a lot of heart. We came back from a goal down. I’m very proud of this team. But I also think we played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that.”
She went on to blister Sweden for playing conservative and refusing to open their passing game up, and made it personal, adding, “We had that style of play when Pia was our coach,” and topped it off with, “I don’t think they’ll make it very far in the tournament.”
Among those who couldn’t have disagreed more with Solo was former Olympic and World Cup team captain Julie Foudy, now an ESPN commentator, who called Sweden’s conservative game plan “a tactic most outmatched teams take in a soccer” as well as “tactically smart.” Solo’s rant was “ridiculous and classless, and it really doesn’t represent the house that we built with the U.S. team.”
You know who else disagreed with Solo? Current U.S. Coach Jill Ellis, who exhibited the grace Solo lacked and gave Sundhage and the Swedes the credit they deserved.
“They executed her game plan very well,” Ellis said. “It’s a matter of knowing how to use all the resources you have. And finally the most important thing is the result, not how to play.”
This may well have been Solo’s final big international result as the U.S. goalkeeper. That’s probably for the best.