On Wednesday (8/24), the US Soccer Federation suspended Women’s National Team goalkeeper Hope Solo for her poor sportsmanship after the team’s stunning penalty shootout loss to Sweden in the quarterfinals of the Olympics in Rio.
Solo called the Swedes “cowards” for their game strategy and claimed “the better team did not win.” Sweden is coached by Solo’s and the US National Team’s former head coach Pia Sundhage who returned to her native country to help build up their program. So, if there is anyone who knew how to beat the US, it would probably be Sundhage, who coached a majority of the US Olympic team too.
Sweden employed a very conservative game plan where they were happy to sit back and frustrate the US attack and hope for counterattacking opportunities. Sweden benefited from a bad bounce on a clearing attempt by a US defender, which dropped the ball right to its own attacker in front of the US goal to put Sweden up 1-0. From there, Sweden looked to preserve that lead before the US came back to tie it 1-1, where it stayed through regulation and overtime. Ironically, it was Sweden which was able to get passed Solo in the penalty kick shootout 4-3 to advance to the semifinals instead of the heavily favored USA.
Solo was bitter about Sweden’s strategy and how they game planned for the USA. News flash Hope: that’s what they are supposed to do! Coaches study opponents and look for ways to win. That is what Sweden did. They knew how to frustrate the USA and it worked. The USA did not have their best game either, but that, in part, was also due to the Sweden game plan.
Hope, here is point #2: if you score more goals, you win! Well, the USA attack was not able to capitalize on its chances. There is some bad karma to that and anyone is capable of a bad day. However, give Sweden the nod too for limiting those chances and rising to the occasion when needed.
For Solo, who has been one of the most dominant and vocal US players this generation, it was not a good tournament for her. Her mistakes hurt the USA – particularly in a stunning 2-2 tie to Colombia in the group stage. The 35 year old Solo may have likely been playing in her last Olympics and possibly last major international tournament given that she will be 38 for the next FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019 and 39 for the next Olympics in Tokyo the following year. With younger US goalies, such as Alyssa Naeher, starting to emerge, Solo was likely to be a back-up goalkeeper at best.
So how impactful is the 6 month suspension from US Soccer? Well, it makes good PR, but not really too much else. True, Solo receives a salary from US Soccer for her national team duties and a suspension curtails that and she will lose money there. That will also hurt she public appearance and endorsement image since she will have less visibility. But, Solo will still be playing with her Seattle Reign club, so it is not like she was going to be playing much for the national team now anyway – especially with only two national team games currently scheduled.
For US Soccer, the timing is perfect! They essentially are able to shed the salary of one of their most expensive players on the down side of her career. In doing so, they gain the upside of “doing something” – something that were criticized for last year for not being more heavy-handed with the volatile goalkeeper after a domestic violence incident in the lead up to the Women’s World Cup. It also forces them to focus on the future and finding Solo’s ultimate replacement on the team. So, 6 months sounds like a long time, but with little national team activity coming up in the next few months, US Soccer also protects itself in case it really needs her down the road.
So, great job US Soccer, you came out looking like the good guy for making an easy decision!