Hope Solo, we know, has a temper.
And when she’s upset, she’s not shy about letting people know:
Over the years, some of her sharpest barbs have been aimed at members of the beloved U.S. team that won the 1999 World Cup, the team of Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Michelle Akers, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, Briana Scurry, et al.
Solo bristles at questions about the ’99ers — questions about how that great that team was, about how much they’ve meant to the game and to women’s sports in general, about what it’s been like to follow in their footsteps (and live in their shadow).
But the one question that really gets under her skin is: Why do they have a World Cup, and you don’t?
The 1999 team, of course, was the last U.S. side to win the World Cup. The Americans have had three grabs at the golden ring since, in 2003, 2007, and 2011. They faltered each time.
That wasn’t Solo’s fault. She wasn’t on the roster for the 2003 World Cup, she was benched in 2007 (a decision that backfired in a big way on coach Greg Ryan), and in 2011, she won the Golden Glove award for best goalkeeper.
Still, the U.S. team’s failure to climb that mountain seems to haunt her more than it does her teammates. (Christy Rampone is the only member of the current team who was on the 1999 roster. That means she’s the only one who’s experienced a World Cup triumph.)
Alone among the current stars, Solo refuses to pay public homage to the legends of ’99.
Alex Morgan has a tattoo on her left hip, “Thirteen” spelled out in cursive. It’s a tribute to Kristine Lilly, who wore 13. When Lilly retired in 2011, Morgan asked for the number.
After the 2012 London Olympics, Morgan was interviewed by Foudy on ESPNW. She famously — and adorably — got weepy when she talked about watching the U.S. teams of old when she was just a child.
Looking down at the gold medal around her neck, Morgan told Foudy: “This is this is exactly what I dreamed of when I was a young kid — when I was watching you. This is what I dreamed of.”
That’s when the tears started flowing.
Wambach has said she wouldn’t be a professional soccer player, if not for the inspiration of the ’99ers. She and Hamm remain close friends. When Wambach became the leading scorer in soccer history last year, her biggest cheerleader was the woman whose record she surpassed:
Rampone, a young role player on that 1999 squad, speaks almost reverentially about the experience.
“I always looked up to Michelle Akers when I first started,” she said in an interview last year. “I got to play with her for a year before she retired. Kristine Lilly always inspired me because her work rate was just outstanding. Mia Hamm, Tiffany Milbrett, Brandi Chastain and so many others.”
Then there’s Solo.
It’s hard to tell what she’s most jealous of: the ’99ers’ success, their camaraderie, or their ‘immense popularity.
Maybe she carries a grudge because some of the ’99ers went on to become leaders of the 2007 team. When she publicly lashed out at her coach and belittled a teammate, it fell to those leaders to clean up her mess. Most of them did not treat her kindly.
In her 2012 memoir, Solo described being summoned to a meeting with the elder statesmen of the 2007 squad: Lilly and Wambach, Scurry and Shannon Boxx, Rampone and Kate Markgraf.
According to Solo, Markgraf’s first words to her were, “I can’t even fucking look at you. Who the fuck do you think you are? I can’t even be in the same room with you.” Markgraf stormed out of the room, slamming the door. (Markgraf is now a color commentator who has done women’s soccer games for ESPN, NBC, and Fox. She and Solo still don’t seem to have any use for one another.)
Whatever its root, there smolders within Solo an undeniable hostility toward many of the greats of the past. When the embers ignite, they bring out an ugliness in her that makes her seem cruel and irrational.
It needn’t be so. Someone as gifted as Hope Solo doesn’t have to pull others down to make herself seem taller.
She has so much in her career to be proud of. Why be petty? And with so much to celebrate in the legacy of the U.S. women’s team — a legacy that she will soon enough be part of — why look for opportunities to be churlish?
I don’t know the answer. But with her, the bile comes up again and again.
A few examples.
Lilly was team captain in 2007. That September, the United States made it to the semifinals of the World Cup being played in China. The Americans were two wins away from hoisting the trophy.
That was when Ryan, the coach, made an ill-fated decision. He called Solo in and told her he was sitting her for the semifinal match against Brazil. She was baffled. She’d played extremely well in the tournament: three wins and a tie in four games, every win a shutout. Scurry, her backup, hadn’t been in the net for one minute of the World Cup.
Ryan told Solo that Lilly, who had played with Scurry on the 1999 team, endorsed the switch.
According to Solo, when she confronted Lilly to ask why she’d lobbied for the change, “Lil looked shocked by my question, as though she never expected Greg to reveal their private conversation.” Lilly, trying to extricate herself from an increasingly tense encounter, stammered and said “she didn’t think it mattered who was in goal.”
In that instant, Solo said, she “lost every ounce of respect” for Lilly. (Like many others, Lilly is portrayed in a poor light in Solo’s memoir.)
No one has publicly disputed Solo’s account.
So let’s assume, in the absence of other evidence, that A) Lilly did recommend going with Scurry in goal, and B) surprised to learn that Solo knew about her role, she tried to brush off Solo’s questions.
None of that is remarkable.
Scurry had been a phenomenal goalkeeper. She was 35 by the summer of 2007, which isn’t young, but it isn’t ancient, either. (Solo will be a month shy of 34 when next summer’s World Cup ends.) Scurry had started for Team USA as recently as the 2004 Olympics, where the United States won the gold medal. The Americans didn’t lose a game. Scurry gave up a total of four goals in six Olympic matches.
She had experience playing against Brazil. Solo did not.
It turned out to be a bad decision when Brazil won 4-0, ending the U.S. team’s World Cup dreams.
But it wasn’t a ludicrous decision.
Moreover, as everyone on the team knew, Lilly was extremely shy — she still is. It wouldn’t have been out of character for her to try to deflect Solo’s anger rather than clash with the goalkeeper.
Kristine Lilly is not only one of the greatest players ever to step onto the pitch; she is also one of the most widely admired.
She’s the all-time leader in international appearances, among men or women, with 352. Of those 352 games, she started 330. In a career that spanned 24 years — she joined the national team in 1987, when she was still in high school — she won two World Cups, two Olympic gold medals, and one silver.
She’s third on the all-time U.S. scoring list with 130 goals. Only Wambach and Hamm have more. She’s second all-time in assists, behind only Hamm.
She won U.S. Soccer’s Female Athlete of the Year Award in 1993, then won it again 12 years later, in 2005. (She also won it in 2006.)
And she did it all quietly, without strutting or showboating.
“She ‘s probably the most underrated player in the world,” said Tony DiCicco, coach of the 1999 team,
Jere Longman, the author of The Girls of Summer, an excellent account of the 1999 march to the World Cup title, described Lilly’s game thusly:
She played with such a succinct proficiency that her contribution was not always immediately noticed. She scored goals, but she did not have the slashing visibility of Mia Hamm. She played indefatigable defense, but she did not have the ravenous presence of Michelle Akers. Like [Joy] Fawcett’s, Lilly’s game was best appreciated in retrospect, on the rewind of videotape, where it could be admired for the space covered, the tireless running, the fundamental pass, the elemental header, the brilliance of the rudimentary.
At 5-4, she was one of the smallest players on the team. She was also one of the quietest. Her father, Longman, wrote, could only remember two occasions when he saw her celebrate on the field — and one of those was in high school.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone associated with soccer over the past quarter-century who does not respect Kristine Lilly.
Other than Hope Solo.
Most people wouldn’t question Julie Foudy’s knowledge of soccer.
Hope Solo isn’t most people.
Foudy, a four-time All-American from Stanford, was a mainstay on the national team from 1988 until her retirement in 2004. Her 272 caps place her fourth on the worldwide list, for men or women.
Like Lilly, she won two World Cups, two Olympic gold medals, and a silver medal.
She’s a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. She was the U.S. team’s co-captain or captain for 13 years, and she’s now one of ESPN’s soccer analysts and feature reporters.
(As an aside, before she decided to pursue a career in soccer, she planned to become a doctor and was accepted into Stanford Medical School.)
None of that prevented Hope Solo from lecturing Foudy about the game’s history.
Last December, as part of the commemoration of the centennial of U.S. Soccer, the federation announced that it would name an all-time “Best XI” women’s team.
The all-time team would be chosen by a 56-member selection committee of soccer historians, players, former players, coaches, journalists and others.
It was an impressive, eclectic group that included, among others, Anson Dorrance from the University of North Carolina, by far the most successful coach in women’s collegiate soccer; Christine Brennan from USA Today; Bob Ley from ESPN; Tom Sermanni, then head coach of the women’s team; Jill Ellis, who would become Sermanni’s successor; Carli Lloyd and Christie Rampone from the current squad; and former players Mia Hamm, Carin Gabarra, and Shannon McMillan.
About a week before the results were to come out, Foudy appeared on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss her ballot.
In goal, she picked Briana Scurry.
This was simply unacceptable — as Solo soon let Foudy and the world know.
(By the way, I can forgive her writing “IX” when she meant “XI”. Roman numerals are an awful system, invented by people who drank wine from lead vessels. But “confused of the question”? What does that mean?)
Foudy is no delicate flower. You don’t survive 14 years as a midfielder for the national team by letting people push you around. She replied:
Solo then called Foudy ignorant. Or dumb. Or both.
And ended with this:
“Hey, Jules. I know I said you’re ignorant. I questioned your integrity when I implied that you voted for your friends rather than the best players.
“And reading back over my earlier tweets, I guess I can see how calling world-class female athletes ‘the ponytail posse’ might be considered… what’s the word I’m looking for? … Insulting?
” But just so you know, I have no disrespect.”
A few days later, when U.S. Soccer announced the all-time Best XI, it turned out that Foudy wasn’t so dumb after all. Her ballot matched the results from the 56-member selection committee perfectly, with one exception:
The committee chose Julie Foudy as one of three midfielders.
Foudy voted instead for a former teammate, Shannon Boxx.
There were many great soccer players who didn’t make the All-Time Best XI — hell, it’s only 11 spots. Boxx. Markgraf. Ali Krieger. Rachel van Hollebeke.
Lloyd. MacMillan, Kelley O’Hara. Megan Rapinoe. Heather O’Reilly.
Gabarra. April Heinrichs. Tiffeny Milbrett.
I’m sure there are others.
Every one of them would have been justified in thinking she deserved to be on that list. Yet, of all the players who were passed over, only one was vain and insecure enough to whimper about it in public. That she did so by taking shots at a former teammate, a champion of the sport, was classless.
After Solo’s flurry of tweets, Foudy called her bluff: She posted the list of players she’d voted for, and she invited Solo to do the same. Put up or shut up.
Solo never responded.
When Solo lobbed her famous grenade at Ryan for benching her in the 2007 World Cup, Briana Scurry was collateral damage.
Not only did Solo state that she would have won the game Scurry had just lost (“There’s no doubt in my mind that I would have made those saves…”); she implied that the reason Scurry lost was because she was washed up.
“The fact of the matter is, it’s not 2004 any more. … It’s 2007. And I think you have to live in the present. And you can’t live by big names. It doesn’t matter what somebody did … in the Olympics three years ago.”
During the 2012 Olympics, Chastain was working as a commentator for NBC.
When she was mildly critical of the U.S. team’s defense in one game — while giving the team an “A-minus” for its overall performance — Solo responded with a series of insulting tweets.
These were remarkable for several reasons.
One was Solo’s apparent belief that the job of a network commentator is to cheerlead for the home team. “Its important 2 our fans 2 enjoy the spirit of the olympics … @brandichastain should be helping 2 grow the sport,” she wrote.
Another was that while Chastain was on the air, Solo was on the field. So unless she had a mini-TV stashed in goal, she had no idea what Chastain had said. At best, her overblown reaction was based on what someone told her Chastain had said.
After the Olympics, Solo rationalized her conduct in an interview with Jeremy Schapp of ESPN. Essentially, she anointed herself as the team’s media critic.
“It’s pretty simple,” she said. “I don’t think she’s a great commentator. … She’s not, in my opinion, well-spoken. She’s not well-versed in the game.”
She went on: “I just want the best commentators. Our sport deserves that. Our team deserves that. ”
Not only that: If you don’t count winning a World Cup (OK, two World Cups) and an Olympic gold medal (OK, two gold medals. And one silver), and being named to the All-Time Best XI, Chastain really hadn’t accomplished much as a player.
“She took her shirt off after scoring the winning penalty kick,” Solo said. “But that … certainly doesn’t mean she knows the game.”
Did Solo’s Twitter tantrum have anything to do with Chastain saying a few weeks earlier that she was “disappointed” Solo had failed a drug test?
“I have no personal beef with Brandi Chastain,” Solo said.
I hope Solo gets her World Cup win next summer. She deserves it. The whole team does. It’s been tremendously successful. It’s won everything it can win except a World Cup.
And this group’s days together are growing short. They probably won’t have another chance after 2015. Solo will be almost 38 by the time the 2019 World Cup rolls around. Wambach will be 39. Rampone will be 44. (Even she can’t go that long. Can she?) Lloyd will be 36. O’Reilly and Krieger will be 34.
Without Solo in goal, the U.S. team would not have accomplished all it has.
Many people believe Solo’s the greatest goalkeeper ever. Before she’s through, she may convince others. (The vote by the “Best XI” selection committee was close: 31 for Scurry, 24 for Solo.
“I’m one of the best goalkeepers this country has ever seen,” Solo told Schapp in that 2012 interview.
She added: “My play speaks for itself.”
I wish that were true.
Because too often, when she speaks for it, the result is embarrassing.