Sports with Art Thiel
7:50 am
Fri July 15, 2011

U.S. Women go for World Cup title, former UW star at goalie

She's dealt with a lot of drama on and off the soccer field. But former University of Washington star Hope Solo is at the top of her game as the United States Women's soccer team prepares to take on Japan for the World Cup title this Sunday.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says the Washington native is not your typical team player – but that's one of the things that makes her so good.

"There's that independent streak of thinking and doing that has always marked her career – and I tend to salute her for it."

Solo played a key role in the U.S. Women's dramatic win over Brazil on Sunday. They won 5-3 on penalty kicks to move onto the semifinals against France on Wednesday. They won that game 3-1.

Solo also was the goalie on the U.S. Women’s Olympic team in 2008, which won the gold medal in a 1-0 shutout against Brazil. Art was at that game and says he witnessed Solo’s independent streak firsthand:

"After she won the Olympic gold medal, rather than join her teammates on the sidelines, Hope reached around to a kit she had next to the goalpost and took out the cellphone and called her brother in the states to celebrate with him rather than her teammates."

Dustup

But Solo's independence and outspoken nature have gotten her into trouble. She was the starting goalie for the U.S. in the 2007 World Cup, giving up two goals in four games including consecutive shutouts. Heading into the semifinal match against Brazil, U.S. coach Greg Ryan benched Solo in favor of 36-year-old veteran Briana Scurry. The U.S. lost to Brazil 4-0.

In an impromptu interview after the game, Solo criticized the coach’s call and said she would’ve made the saves that Scurry missed. She later apologized but was admonished, banished from future games and got into a big dispute with the coach and some of her teammates. The coach eventually resigned. The controversy is detailed in an article by "USA Today."

Art says Solo was dealing with a lot of personal turmoil during the 2007 World Cup, with the sudden death of her father, Jeffrey Solo – her longtime supporter and mentor. Her dad attended all of his daughter's games at the University of Washington and was looking forward to seeing her in a U.S. team jersey for the first time against Brazil. He died eight days before he could follow through with those plans, according to "USA Today."

Art says he thinks Solo grew a lot personally and emotionally during that tumultuous period.

"She is now the premier goalkeeper in the world and really the heart and soul of what's happening with the U.S. Women's World Cup team."

Game changer?

Art says he doubts the increased interest in this year's Women's World Cup will translate into more popularity for women's professional soccer in America. The same prediction was made after the U.S. women last won the World Cup in 1999 with well-known players like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain. But it didn't happen.

He does expect professional soccer to continue its slow, steady climb in popularity in the U.S. – and he says the success of the Seattle Sounders FC is a good example of the increased interest locally.

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.