It’s been a quiet Women’s World Cup for Hope Solo.
On the field, the U.S. goalkeeper has been called on to make just 11 saves in five games. And off the field, she’s been all but inaudible, answering just three questions after giving up a goal in the opening match.
She hasn’t answered another question nor allowed another goal since, making her the only keeper in the World Cup who has more shutouts than questions answered.
“Each player can make their own decision in regards in speaking to the media,” a U.S. Soccer spokesman said of Solo, the lone American player who refuses to stop on her way from the locker room to the team bus after games.
If the silent Solo hasn’t been accountable to the media, though, she has been to her teammates, with her U.S. record of 423 scoreless minutes allowing the Americans to advance to the semifinals unbeaten after a pair of 1-0 wins and a scoreless draw.
“She’s the best goalkeeper in the world,” defender Ali Krieger said, an opinion shared by Coach Jill Ellis.
But she’s often been the most disruptive and complicated player on the team as well, one whose list of misdeeds rivals her list of records.
Solo was dismissed from the team — and ostracized by teammates — during the 2007 World Cup after publicly criticizing Coach Greg Ryan’s decision to pull her in favor of Briana Scurry in the semifinals. Then came Twittergate at the 2012 Olympic Games, when Solo embarrassed teammates with pointed remarks made on social media.
Yet that was just a warm-up for the last 13 months. In June 2014, Solo was charged with two counts of domestic assault after an altercation with her nephew and half-sister. And then in January she was riding shotgun when her husband, former NFL player Jerramy Stevens, was arrested for DUI while behind the wheel of a U.S. Soccer van. Stevens later pleaded no contest.
In the first instance, a judge threw out the case, though Kirkland, Wash., prosecutors are planning to appeal that decision. In the second, Solo was suspended for a month by U.S. Soccer officials who, having grown tired of the drama, hinted strongly that she might have to watch the World Cup on television.
U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati refused to say whether the conditions of Solo’s reinstatement involved treatment for substance abuse or counseling.
In her blog, Solo credits visits to a therapist and an Eastern medicine healer with helping get her back on the field.
Whatever the reason, Ellis has noticed a difference.
“She’s done a fantastic job with this team, with this program,” Ellis said after last week’s quarterfinal win over China, one in which Solo earned her ninth World Cup shutout and a U.S. record 134th career win.
“On the field she’s tremendous. I’ve really noticed — on the field, off the field — just a real good focus.”
And that focus may have been helped by her silence. Solo stopped talking shortly after ESPN, on the eve of the World Cup, reported new details of the year-old domestic abuse case, leading to questions that were more about her personal life than her soccer performance.
So she stopped taking questions.
What she hasn’t had to answer for though is her play because, at 33 and with two Olympic championships and a bronze and silver medal from two World Cups, Solo is arguably playing the best soccer of her career.
Since returning from her suspension in March, Solo has 10 shutouts in 13 starts. And she hasn’t allowed more than a goal in any game.
She owes much of her success at this World Cup to a young back line that has jelled quickly, shutting down opposing attacks before they get close to the goal. And that’s given Solo long periods with nothing much to do.
In a scoreless tie with Sweden, for example, Solo wasn’t called on to make a save. And in the second-round shutout of Colombia, she didn’t face a shot until the 84th minute.
“I think she’s very happy about that,” Krieger said.
Added midfielder Morgan Brian: “She’s been used to that for so many years. But she’s made some saves that have kept us in games. That’s what her job is.”
Just don’t confuse inactivity with inattention. Because while Solo goes mute after games she doesn’t stop talking during them.
“She organizes the defense. And anyone helping in the midfield,” Brian said. “That’s huge for that position.”
So are the comments positive or profane?
“That depends on what happens in the play,” Morgan said with a smile.
Now the U.S. team’s future in this World Cup may very well depend on Solo. Although the Americans have allowed just one score in the tournament — none in their last four games — they have yet to play a team like Germany, which they will face on Tuesday.
Also unbeaten, the Germans have scored a tournament-best 20 goals and are averaging nearly 12 shots on target per game — more than twice as many as any other team.
Just one goal against the well-rested Solo could be too many for the U.S. since German keeper Nadine Angerer, a former world player of the year, is almost as good, having been scored upon just three times in five games.
“She’s consistent. She’s confident. She does her job really well,” Krieger said of Angerer, a former Frankfurt teammate. “They really look for her for making those MVP plays.
“She’s a leader and that’s what leaders do.”
Told it sounded like she was describing Solo, Krieger laughed.
“Hope’s better,” she said.