August 12th, 2016 was a low point for the United States women’s national team. They were heading home from Rio after falling to Sweden in a penalty kick shootout in the quarterfinals. A fifth place finish for a team that had won gold at the previous two editions of the Summer Games, and who had just won the World Cup a year ago, was an embarrassment.
However, storm clouds were brought on that already dark day in the form of comments made by the USWNT’s Hope Solo. In an interview after the game, the goalkeeper called the Swedes “cowards” for their game management and highly defensive tactics.
Two weeks later, Solo was handed a six-month suspension from the national team and her contract was terminated by the U.S. Soccer Federation. She has not appeared for the side since that day in Brasilia. The Sweden “incident” was certainly not the first time Solo has stirred things up, causing problems.
Her desire and quickness to speak her mind became part of her reputation early on, gaining her perhaps more critics than fans along the way. Throughout her short stint in Rio, for example, she was booed by much of the crowd each time she touched the ball, a response to inflammatory tweets made prior to the tournament about her fear of contracting the Zika virus while in South America.
Long before that, in 2007, Solo was benched in the third place game of the World Cup after telling the media that coach Greg Ryan’s decision to start fellow U.S. goalie Brianna Scurry in their 4-0 semi final loss to Brazil was a mistake. Off the field, she made national headlines in 2014 after her arrest for reportedly assaulting her husband and nephew. She was suspended one game with her club team and there were calls for her to be dismissed from the 2015 World Cup roster for her actions.
Solo hasn’t always been a pain in the side of US Soccer. In the years leading up to her suspension, she was one of the faces of the “equal pay for equal play” movement spearheaded by the US women’s team. Solo was one of five USWNT players who filed a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after the team received meager World Cup earnings which paled in comparison to the men’s despite performing better. There were even suggestions that the governing body’s decision to remove her from the team after Rio was also perhaps implicitly a way of stifling growing discontent around sport and gender equality issues.
With Solo out, U.S. Soccer could dampen the fire for a bit. It can be said that there are plenty of bullheaded and loud male sports personalities who aren’t reprimanded in the same way Solo was.
While many things have changed for the 37-year-old since her departure from the U.S. squad, one thing that has certainly remained a constant is her voice. This past year, she ran for president of U.S. Soccer on a platform that focused on improving access and equality in all youth levels, financial transparency throughout the federation and creating a “winning” culture in American soccer.
Though her campaign was unsuccessful, Solo has continued to fight for the issues about which she’s most passionate. Last month, she caused a collective gasp in the American soccer community when she said that the U.S. should not host the 2026 World Cup and rather the tournament should be awarded to a more “deserving” country without the structural, economic and development problems that the sport has here.
When FIFA released their list of judges for the Best Goalkeeper award, Solo called them out on Instagram for not including any women on the panel. She found herself in soccer news yet again just a few weeks ago when the U.S. Olympic committee dismissed a complaint she had made in which she accused the USSF of illegally favoring Major League Soccer. You can be that, if there’s injustice happening in the sport in any form, Solo is going be around to say something and won’t mince words.
Throughout her 16 years with the USWNT, Solo was loud, consistent, and showed up in the important moments. Though she will likely never put on a national team jersey again, those words continue to define her, and, though critics abound, it’s hard to say that that’s a bad thing.