“The next World Cup is in 2019. Nobody beat me out physically. And for me not to have the opportunity to see if there’s another goalkeeper better than me, that doesn’t seem right.”
So spoke Hope Solo in her first interview in some time, which aired on Showtime’s 60 Minutes Sports on Tuesday night. The 35-year-old longtime United States women’s national team goalkeeper has been suspended since after last summer’s Rio Olympics, when she called the Swedish team that upset the Americans on penalties in the quarterfinals “cowards” for their negative tactics.
Solo’s suspension ends February 22, but it is fairly safe to assume that her national team days are numbered. She may be the all-time U.S. leader in goalkeeper appearances, starts, wins and shutouts and hold several other records, but Solo had a long rap sheet of violating team rules and running into trouble with the law.
Her suspension, then, was much less the consequence of using a fairly benign word to describe opponents than the final straw finally breaking a battered camel’s back.
What’s more, Solo recently underwent reconstructive shoulder surgery. In the interview, she showed off the long scar on her right shoulder, where she had “complete shoulder replacement surgery” with a titanium rod inserted from her shoulder to her elbow.
“The rehab is tough,” Solo said. “It’s about a two-year full recovery. I’m way ahead of schedule. So I expect to be back and able to perform at a high level within the next year.”
That would leave a year and four months until the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, where the Americans will seek to defend their 2015 title which was won with Solo in goal.
Solo suggested in the interview that she still doesn’t quite understand why she was essentially fired by the United States Soccer Federation, which canceled her contract as a full-time employee.
“I never thought you could get fired for being a poor sport,” she said. “I was a poor sport. We had just lost the Olympics. We’re supposed to be the No. 1 team in the world. It’s OK to be passionate. It’s OK to hurt.”
But she also reiterated her previous claim that she was kicked off the national team because of her reported hardliner role in the ongoing CBA negotiations, which have at times been contentious.
“I think that the federation thought that if they removed me from the team that they could also remove me from this fight from equal pay,” Solo said. “And they got that wrong because I am more impassioned about this fight now than I ever have been before.”
“Playing nice doesn’t get results,” she added, referring to her staunch belief in negotiating tough. “I know how the federation negotiates. They tell us what kind of contract they’re going to give us.”
Solo claimed that the team was willing and “ready” to go on strike while she was one of its negotiating leaders.
Yet in spite of Showtime’s sympathetic portrayal – depicting Solo’s cross-country RV trip with her husband, former NFL player Jerramy Stevens, and their three Dobermans from Seattle to North Carolina, where they are building a new house – the goalkeeper likely only made her odds of rejoining the national team team worse.
The segment paraphrased Solo calling head coach Jill Ellis a “poor leader” and “bad tactician” although it didn’t air those quotes. Solo also lamented that she hasn’t heard anything from any national team staff member since her suspension was announced, implying a sense of betrayal.
She also went on a strange rant about overweight children playing in goal. “It’s one of my biggest pet peeves here in America,” she said. “There’s no reason to have overweight goalkeepers.”
It appeared Solo, above all, is concerned for her legacy.
“Ten years from now, 20 years from now, they’ll look back,” she said. “They’ll know that I fought tooth and nail for women’s rights, for civil rights, for equal pay. … And they will know that I changed the way goalkeeping is played. I’m proud. I can walk away today and be proud of everything I stood for. I’m not sure that day is today. But I do know that, in time, history will tell the story of who Hope Solo really is.”
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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