Linda Robertson

Linda Robertson: Hope Solo saving U.S. soccer team even as controversies swirl

U.S. soccer team goalie Hope Solo has been plagued by off-field incidents.
U.S. soccer team goalie Hope Solo has been plagued by off-field incidents. Getty Images

Hope Solo does a remarkable job of saving her teammates. Why can’t she save herself?

Solo, the U.S. goalkeeper with hands of gold, again finds herself at the center of controversy, a spot she seems to occupy with as much frequency as her position in front of the net.

Solo confounds and amazes simultaneously. As her latest load of dirty laundry enveloped her, she was the U.S. soccer team’s most valuable player in the 3-1 victory over Australia on Monday in its World Cup opener. The United States was disorganized and at times even outclassed by the underdog Aussies in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

But three savvy and acrobatic saves by Solo kept the game in check and gave the deeper U.S. team the breathing room it needed to get better as the minutes wore on.

She’s the best goalkeeper in the world. The United States cannot win its first World Cup since 1999 without her. Everyone on the team has already found a way to compartmentalize the latest Solo BOLO, which is an investigative report from ESPN with unseemly details about her arrest for domestic violence on June 21, 2014.

Solo, 33, has consistently portrayed herself as the victim in a fight with her half sister, Teresa Obert, and Obert’s son, a 17-year-old who stands 6-8 and weighs 270 pounds, at Obert’s Kirkland, Washington, house. Solo arrived drunk, and an argument escalated into fisticuffs. Solo got hit over the head with a broomstick and sustained a concussion. The nephew was hit in the face, and his head was repeatedly slammed into the floor.

Police, who described Solo as the “primary aggressor,” said she was combative after she was arrested, insulting officers by calling one a “14-year-old boy,” saying she could beat them up if she wasn’t handcuffed, and telling another that the necklace she was asked to take off was worth more than the officer’s annual salary.

The two misdemeanor charges against her were dismissed on procedural grounds earlier this year, but prosecutors have taken the unusual step of appealing in order to pursue the case.

The report came out the day before the Australia game. Solo’s team closed ranks around her.

“We are creating a bubble, and we want nothing to penetrate that bubble right now,” Abby Wambach said. “Everyone is happy in the locker room.”

Carli Lloyd, Solo’s roommate, said she and Solo have not even mentioned the report.

“That was a long time ago,” coach Jill Ellis said of the incident. “We’ve moved on. She’s been a fantastic player and teammate. None of that has ever resonated with us, and I’m sure some of the players aren’t even aware of it. We have each other’s backs.”

The reaction was quite different from what happened at the 2007 World Cup, when Solo alienated everybody. She started the first four games and posted three shutouts, then was benched by coach Greg Ryan in favor of Brianna Scurry for the semifinal against Brazil, which the United States lost 4-0.

“It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody who knows anything about the game knows that,” she said afterward. “There’s no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves.”

Solo spoke the truth when it would have been more diplomatic to bite her tongue. For that she was blackballed by the team, banned from the third-place game and post-Cup tour. When she tried to sit down with her teammates, they got up and left. When she wasn’t shunned, she was scolded, mocked. It was mean and petty treatment, and the healing took years, but today her teammates have more empathy for Solo.

She had a rocky childhood. Her father was a con man who was in and out of prison and homeless shelters. Her mother was an alcoholic. Her brother used to beat her up. Soccer was her outlet. And when she became a goalie in college, she discovered it was the perfect position for a gritty young woman anxious to dive after or punch away any challenge to her territory, any breach of the wall she had erected around herself. Solo takes goals personally. That’s what makes her so good.

She can still be belligerent and impulsive. She has a knack for rubbing people the wrong way. She turned her appearance on Dancing With the Stars into a melodrama, accusing her partner of slapping her during rehearsals. After winning her second Olympic gold medal at the 2012 Games, playing every minute, she married ex-Seattle Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens — the day after a family brawl at her house led to his arrest for domestic violence, a charge that was dropped. In January, an intoxicated Solo allowed an intoxicated Stevens to drive a U.S. team van. He was arrested; she was suspended for 30 days.

“The women’s team has reconciled that while they may not like Hope Solo or want to hang out with Hope Solo, they want her on the field saving their you-know-what time and time again,” said Fox commentator and former U.S. player Alexi Lalas.

But the majority of Solo’s teammates respect her effort in the past year to change, to dump her baggage. Solo, on the defensive since she was a little girl, wants to learn from her mistakes, Ellis said.

To make the seven-game run to the Cup, the team has to trust a person who doesn’t easily inspire or welcome trust. She regards each shot as an affront. So much rests in the hands of Solo, savior.