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U.S. team heals by going Solo

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

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U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo (L) saves a ball as teammate Heather Mitts (bottom) defends against Canada's Clare Rustad (L) scoring attempt during their 2008 quarterfinal match on Aug. 15, 2008.
(LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images)

BEIJING – Hope Solo tried to minimize the magnitude of her role in Thursday's USA-Brazil Olympic gold medal women's soccer game. And who can blame her?

It was just last year that Solo was benched in favor of Briana Scurry in the World Cup semifinal against Brazil, and after watching the U.S. lose 4-0, she unloaded with the mother of all hatchet jobs on her veteran teammate.

"It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that," she told ESPN.

"There's no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves. And the fact of the matter is it's not 2004 anymore. … It's 2007, and I think you have to live in the present. And you can't live by big names. You can't live in the past. It doesn't matter what somebody did in an Olympic gold medal game in the Olympics three years ago. Now is what matters, and that's what I think."

What she thought was enough for her teammates to rally around Scurry and vote Solo temporarily off the team. Back in the States, Solo was grilled by some for her lack of tact, even if the point was essentially true, something other fans rallied around.

Hindsight shows she should have been in the game rather than Scurry, who, despite a track record as a national team hero, including a brilliant effort to defeat the Brazilians in the 2004 gold medal game, was an older player who hadn't seen enough time to be sharp.

Regardless, Hope wanted Brazil and now Hope gets Brazil, and if she has any hope at all of putting this thing truly behind her, it's now or maybe never to deliver.

One thing really doesn't have anything to do with the other, except that we live in a perception-is-reality world.

"I know Hope is probably very happy to see Brazil," teammate Heather O'Reilly said.

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Hope Solo and the U.S. team face Brazil in the gold medal match Thursday at 9 a.m. ET.
(Byron Hetzler-US PRESSWIRE)

No one wants to be defined by a single comment given in the aftermath of a frustrating loss, but there is a reason Solo is the best known player on the U.S. team.

If she wants to shut people up, she just needs to shut out Brazil – a near impossible task, of course, yet one she created for herself 11 months ago.

"It has nothing to do with those shots (that got by Scurry)," Solo said Monday. "That was 11 months ago. I don't think it's a personal thing anymore. I think it's our team wanting to reclaim what we could have gotten at the World Cup. It has nothing to do with anything personal right now."

That said, she cheered when she heard that Brazil had won its semifinal match in Shanghai. This was the game she clearly wanted.

"I think it would be nice to play Brazil because you always want to reclaim what you could have had."

That said, Solo claims this is just another gold medal game since she's faced Brazil three times since last year. Those were friendlies though. This is a game that will capture the attention of the casual soccer fan in America, the one just remembering what this was all about.

The controversy over Solo was enough to fray the bonds of the team, with some hesitant to let her back. Solo was unsure of her future and retreated to her home in Washington. Coach Greg Ryan was fired, in part for the loss, and replaced by Pia Sundhage.

Sundhage realized on Day 1 that she had a problem, and discussed it with each player.

"It would be arrogant for me ignore it," she said. "I got five different stories about what happened. I said (to each player), 'OK, two questions. One, do you want to win?'

" 'Yes, I want to win

"Do we need goalkeepers to win?

" 'Yes, we do.'

"OK. That's why they are here. The fact is we want to move on. We're in this together."

The team says it's closer now than it was under Ryan. On the pitch, more players are contributing, more are scoring goals, more are stepping up, which is the only way the U.S. could reach the gold medal game without injured star Abby Wambach.

Is Solo part of that togetherness? These are essentially the same teammates who voted her off the team just last year. She says it doesn't matter. She is as close as she needs to be with them.

"I've never been that player that's been overly close with my teammates, just because we're all so busy," she said.

"And I'm 27 years old. We have our lives at home. I have my good support system back at home. You come in here and you're as close as you need to be to get the job done.

In short, make those saves Thursday against the most dangerous team in the world and a great deal about the last turbulent year in Hope Solo's life will be forgotten.

It's not necessarily fair. It's just the situation she made for herself.