Hope Solo, now eligible to return, remains a long way from USWNT comeback

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Longtime superstar goalkeeper Hope Solo is eligible to return to the United States women’s national team following her six-month suspension as of Friday, U.S. Soccer has confirmed to Yahoo Sports.

But be that as it may, the chances of ever again seeing Solo in her signature purple and black goalie jersey with the United States Soccer Federation crest on it are slim.

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Solo was suspended for half a year back in August for calling the USA’s Swedish opponents “cowards” for their negative tactics in the Olympic quarterfinal that eliminated the Americans earlier than in any other major tournament they had ever participated in. But, really, it was a suspension – and, more acutely, the cancellation of her contract – based on a long rap sheet of offenses, or allegations of offenses, against team rules, sportsmanship and, on some occasions, the law.

The winner of the 2011 and 2015 Women’s World Cup award for the tournament’s best goalkeeper – who has appeared on “Dancing with the Stars,” in ESPN The Magazine’s “Body Issue” and in other such off-field cultural flashpoints – had simply worn out her welcome. And at 35, it was unclear that her position as a starter was automatic after a pair of flubs in a 2-2 tie with Colombia at the Rio Games.

Fairly or not, head coach Jill Ellis, her team and the federation seemed to be moving on.

Solo, however, remains adamant that she wants to return. Characteristically, she has opted for a fiery attack on the federation, Ellis and the team staff as her approach to try to force a comeback, criticizing them all publicly and making various allegations of dubious logic and shoddy proof. This is Solo’s long-time M.O. and goes some way in explaining why she actually isn’t on the national team anymore.

Solo’s six-month suspension officially ended on Friday. (AP Photo)
Solo’s six-month suspension officially ended on Friday. (AP Photo)

Either way, there are no barriers that stand in the way for Solo – who is getting her own TV show regardless of whether she returns.

There are no conditions she needs to meet, according to U.S. Soccer. Whether or not Solo rejoins the national team is a matter of her head coach’s decisions.

That is to say, Solo joins the rest of the goalkeepers eligible for the U.S. national team in awaiting a phone call from Ellis to join her team.

That could be a long wait.

During her suspension, Solo underwent shoulder replacement surgery, which she says requires two years of rehabilitation. That alone makes her a long shot to return, considering Solo’s fairly advanced age, even for a goalkeeper. Typically, she is bullish on her chances of recovery.

“The rehab is tough,” Solo said earlier this month in an interview with “60 Minutes Sports.” “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.”

But the recovery alone will cost her the entire 2017 National Women’s Soccer League season. And considering she opted not to play for her team, the Seattle Reign, during her national team suspension, she will likely go a full year and a half without playing in a competitive game – or really any game at all.

Which is all to say that in order to make it back, Solo has to complete rehab, get some semblance of game rhythm, somehow return to her old level – which isn’t a given after major surgery and a long layoff – and get an opportunity on the national team. Oh, and she has to stay out of trouble and make amends with Ellis, who surely isn’t overly eager to bring back a player the federation decided was more trouble than she was worth.

But that isn’t all. Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher, her longtime goalkeeping understudies on the national team, have performed perfectly well in Solo’s absence and will likely only cement their places further. One of them will win out as the starter. The other will be the No. 2. Both are strong goalkeepers and both are at least four years younger than Solo. Also, neither is coming off major shoulder surgery.

To make it back onto the national team, Solo has to accomplish all of the above and prove herself better than her replacements. Not only better in fact, but so much better that it would be crazy not to put her on the team, in spite of the obvious downsides.

That’s a big ask.

Actually, that’s a whole lot of big asks.

Hope Solo is free to play for the U.S. women’s national team again. But it could be a long time before it actually happens, if it ever happens.

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Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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