America at Large: US soccer finds time apt to dispense with Hope Solo
Other factors in play as long-serving goalkeeper subjected to draconian punishment
USA goalkeeper Hope Solo: one of a quintet of high-profile stars who have filed a discrimination case against the USSF. Photograph: Scott Heavey/Getty Images
In the early hours of January 19th last year, California police came upon a US Soccer van being driven with the lights off. Jerramy Stevens, a former NFL tight end, was drunk at the wheel, his wife Hope Solo, the national team goalkeeper, was a passenger. While a judge sentenced Stevens to 30 days in jail, the USSF decided partying during a World Cup training camp and taking a team vehicle for a midnight joyride merited just a one month suspension for Solo, a punishment that, conveniently enough, meant she missed no meaningful fixtures in the build-up to that summer’s tournament.
In the immediate aftermath of the United States’ penalty shoot-out defeat in the Olympics’ quarter-final last month, Solo offered a searingly honest appraisal of the defensive tactics deployed by the victorious Swedes.
“I think we played a bunch of cowards today,” she said. “The best team did not win. . .They didn’t want to open the game and they tried to counter with long balls. I think it was very cowardly but they won. They’re moving on and we’re going home.”
In its ill-tempered tone and sore loser texture, the comment was remarkably similar to Ronaldo’s bitter take on Iceland in the first round of the European Championships. Except the reaction here was a tad different. Last week, the USSF gave Solo a six-month ban and terminated her $56,000 a year contract with the Seattle Reign of the NWSL, describing her remarks as “unacceptable” and failing to meet its “standard of conduct”.
Conveniently enough, the US do not have a major tournament coming up until the 2019 World Cup.
Past indiscretionsSunil GulatiRichard ChaplowRobbie Rogers
It’s a peculiar justice system where a case of sour grapes is regarded as a more egregious offence than that.
In 202 international appearances, Solo kept 102 clean sheets. For more than a decade she was the best goalkeeper America has ever produced and, arguably the finest the women’s game has yet seen.
During that time, she bulwarked sides that won two Olympic golds and, in epic style, last summer’s World Cup.
But, her performances in Brazil were less assured than usual and now that’s she’s 35 and the next big tournament is three years away, she’s considered expendable and being made to pay for her uncanny ability to attract controversy and plaudits in equal measure.
On her wedding day in 2012, police were called to a party and arrested Stevens for domestic assault (the case was later dropped) even as Solo instructed everybody present not to co-operate with the authorities. Two years later, she was in custody herself, facing the same charge following an incident with her half-sister Teresa Obert and Obert’s teenage son.
During that episode, Solo reportedly taunted one officer, saying, “You’re such a bitch. You’re scared of me because you know that if the handcuffs were off, I’d kick your ass.”
She remains subject to a restraining order prohibiting her from any contact with either individual involved in that case which is expected to go to trial later this year. Even her cameo on Dancing with the Stars, her presence there an indicator of the wattage of her celebrity, culminated in an accusation that a co-star slapped her and a declaration that the whole show was “rigged”. If her pattern of behaviour (let’s not forget social media posts about Zika that angered Brazilians and caused her to be booed during every match at the Games) has ensured the bad headlines have long since started to outnumber the good, the situation is more complex than it first appears.
In America, women’s soccer occupies a curious place. Nobody watches or cares much for the distaff professional league even if it’s speckled with international stars. Yet, every couple of years, for an Olympics or World Cup, they watch the very same players in the type of record numbers that have made Solo and others more famous than almost all of their male counterparts. They are better known, more successful on the international stage yet paid significantly less, an anomaly that some suspect may also have contributed to Solo’s outsized ban.
Discrimination caseClint Dempsey
Jurgen Klinsmann’s team get $9,375 for winning friendlies whereas the women receive just $1,350. The players’ argument is that they generate more income (events such as last year’s lucrative post-World Cup ten-match victory tour) and bring more success to the country.
“The men get paid more to just show up than we get paid to win major championships,” said Solo. “We continue to be told we should be grateful just to have the opportunity to play professional soccer, to get paid for doing it. In this day and age, it’s about equality. It’s about equal rights. It’s about equal pay. We’re pushing for that.”
That was back in March. She could afford to be outspoken then. Her country still needed her for the Olympics.