It has been quite a memorable Olympics for Hope Solo — for all the wrong reasons.
The controversial U.S. goalkeeper and her Women’s World Cup champion teammates are heading home earlier than anyone expected after being eliminated in the quarterfinals on Friday. They lost to Sweden 4-3 on penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 tie through 120 minutes at Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia.
It was the first time in five Olympics and seven World Cups that the Americans didn’t advance to the semifinals.
Solo did not take the loss well, calling the Swedes “a bunch of cowards” because they dropped back, clogged the midfield and played a defensive style.
“We played a creative game,” she told reporters. “We had many opportunities on goal. 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 [Friday]. I strongly, firmly believe that. I think you saw American heart. You saw us give everything we had [Friday].
“I don’t think they’re going to make it far in the tournament. I think it was very cowardly. But they won. They’re moving on, and we’re going home.”
Sweden coach Pia Sundhage, the former U.S. coach, asked about Solo’s comments, told Swedish reporters: “I don’t give a crap. We’re going to Rio, and she’s going home.”
Solo later softened her comments a bit, but the damage was done. Her incendiary remarks went viral on social media within an hour after the match.
Even before the Olympics began, Solo had alienated herself from the Brazilian people by posting photos of herself wearing an elaborate mosquito mask and also a photo with dozens of bottles and cans of insect repellant with the caption #zikaproof #roadtoRio.
The locals did not find her posts amusing and heckled her with chants of “Zika! Zika!” nearly every time she touched the ball in the opening match against New Zealand.
The 2-2 tie against Colombia in the group stage also found Solo in the headlines after she made two uncharacteristic errors.
Then Friday, just before Sweden’s final penalty kick, Solo decided to play mental games with Lisa Dahlkvist, who had just stepped up to take the kick. Solo called for time, waved to the referee, peeled off her gloves and asked an assistant coach for another pair. The assistant ran over and gave them to her. Dahlkvist watched the drama and smiled.
A minute later, she scored. Game over and Olympics over for the Americans, who entered as heavy gold-medal favorites. They were determined to become the first team to win an Olympics the year after winning a World Cup. It was not to be.
Solo blamed the loss on Sweden’s tactics.
“Sweden dropped back,” she said. “They didn’t want to open play. They didn’t want to pass the ball around. They didn’t want to play great soccer, entertaining soccer. It was a combative game. A physical game. Exactly what they wanted. Exactly what their game plan was. We had that style of play when Pia was our coach.”
Sundhage defended her team and game plan: “According to Hope Solo, I think you should define what is a good team. Well, usually — especially with the Americans — a good team is when they’re winning.
“And they’re winning all the time. That’s the best team in the world. But for once they didn’t go the whole way through. We won the game. They played more attacking football than we did. We defend very well. And the fact that … it went to penalty kicks says something about our defending. U.S. played better in the attack, we played better in the defense. And at the end of the day we won the game and that’s what all counts. It’s OK to be a coward if you win.”
Sweden took the lead in the 61st minute on Stina Blackstenius’ counter-attacking shot. Alex Morgan tied it up 16 minutes later.
Each team had a goal disallowed in the extra-time period, one by Carli Lloyd for the United States and another by Lotta Schelin for Sweden. It came down to penalty kicks, and Morgan’s opening shot was blocked by Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl. Solo made a great diving save on Linda Sembrant’s shot, but then Christen Press knocked the fifth U.S. kick over the crossbar.
“You’ve got to take your hat off to them because they beat us,” Solo said. “So they’re going on, like I said, and we’re going home. They don’t have as quality of players as the American team does or as Brazil does, so they have to play a way that’s going to give them hope to beat a team like Brazil or the USA.”