Hope Solo, who started in goal for the U.S. in the last three Women’s World Cups, isn’t on the team for this tournament, but she made her presence felt just the same, blasting coach Jill Ellis in a weekend interview with the BBC.
“Jill is not the leader I wish her to be,” she said. “She relies heavily on her assistant coaches. She cracks under the pressure quite a bit. But often that doesn’t matter because the quality of the players on the U.S. team is superb. It doesn’t matter who is coaching us because we will find a way to win. The United States knows how to find a way to win in spite of who the coach is.”
Alyssa Naeher was Solo’s backup in the last Women’s World Cup and is now the U.S. starter. Asked Sunday about the BBC interview, Naeher said she hadn’t heard the comments.
“I haven’t been on social media since we left New York,” she said. “So I’m not really sure what’s going on, to be honest.”
Several members of the U.S. team have talked about the importance of shutting out the rest of the world during a competition as big as a World Cup.
“We’ve basically created a bubble for ourselves,” midfielder Julie Ertz said. “Anything that you feel like doesn’t keep you focused, we just try to eliminate it.”
It’s something U.S. national teams have done in the past, with veteran players teaching the newcomers how to eliminate distractions.
“One of the biggest things I learned from going through the whole process is just the importance of creating boundaries. And how to go about getting into that bubble,” Naeher said.
“The biggest thing is just being able to come together as a group. And the best way to come together as a group is to kind of create that bubble and eliminate all the outside noise. The more that we can kind of bond, you’ll be able see that on the field. You can see the teams that are cohesive, and you can see the ones that aren’t.”
Naeher is expected to start in Tuesday’s opener against Thailand, making her the first goalkeeper not named Solo or Briana Scurry to play in a Women’s World Cup game for the U.S. since 1995.
That’s made her a target of both curiosity and criticism. But Ertz, a teammate of Naeher’s with the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars, said she was confident in her teammate.
“She’s really good. Great shot-stopper. She knows what she’s good at,” she said. “I see how much she’s put into it and how prepared she is.”
Asked if she was annoyed by all the scrutiny Naeher was experiencing, Ertz answered quickly.
“Yeah,” she said. “We know who she is. We train with her every single day.”
With Italy upsetting favored Australia and England beating Scotland on Saturday, European teams have won six of the seven games to open this World Cup, stoking hopes on the continent that a UEFA team might return to the top of the medal stand for the first time since Germany won in 2007.
A European team hasn’t made the final of the last two tournaments, with the U.S. and Japan playing for the championship both times. In addition to Italy and England, the other European winners were France over South Korea, Norway over Nigeria, Germany over China, and Spain over South Africa.
Sweden and the Netherlands don’t play their first games until Tuesday.
Through the first three days of the tournament, only the Jamaica-Brazil game, won by Brazil, did not have a European victor.