Hope Solo’s World Cup journal is insightful, engaging, and not filled with crazy

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Hope Solo has published a fascinating personal journal of her experiences during the United States’ pursuit of the 2015  World Cup.

Titled ‘Winning It All,’ the journal is on her website, and it’s well worth taking the time to read.

It’s insightful. It’s revealing and honest.  There’s not a trace of the combative, self-serving defensiveness and excuse-making that ran through the pages of her 2013 autobiography Solo: A Memoir of Hope.

The journal is focused and well-organized. Each part has a point. It doesn’t point fingers.

Maybe this is what an anger-free, angst-free Hope Solo sounds like. It’s a joy to hear.

Joe Pugliese/ESPN The Magazine

Joe Pugliese/ESPN The Magazine

The big news in Solo’s journal, which I mentioned last week, was her revelation that three days before the World Cup final, she could barely walk — the result of a knee injury caused by artificial turf. Solo twisted her knee in May, when her cleat got caught
in the crappy artificial turf that the U.S. team was training on. The injury was aggravated by having to play the World Cup semifinal against Germany on the crappy artificial turf in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. (Solo describes Olympic Stadium’s playing surface as plastic grass stretched over concrete.)

But swollen knees aside, there are plenty of other nuggets to be mined in Solo’s journal. Here’s a sampling:

‘The team has your back’

Solo vaguely alludes to — but never directly mentions — the one-sided, sensationalist story that ESPN’s Outside the Lines ran the day before Team USA’s first game in the World Cup. The story rehashed and elaborated on the details surrounding Solo’s June 2014 arrest on domestic assault charges. (Charges that had been dismissed months before the story aired.)

Outside_The_Lines_logoThe timing of ESPN’s sucker punch was no coincidence. Trotting out the Solo piece on the eve of the World Cup — which a competitor, Fox, was broadcasting — was a transparent attempt by ESPN to attract as much attention as possible. And it worked. The rest of the national media, predictably, seized on the story without pausing to contemplate how flimsy it was.

Suddenly, Solo, her teammates, and her coaches found themselves facing a barrage of new questions about an old occurrence.

Solo writes that she knew she had to tune out the distractions and stay focused. To do that, she relied on “the support system I had in place…. That included my friends, family and my team.”

The day after the World Cup started, Alex Morgan came and found me. In the past, Alex said, she might not have approached me, but she felt that our relationship had come so far because I had opened up more to her and the rest of our team over the past several months. She said, “I just want you to know that the team has your back.”

Not long after, Kelley O’Hara came up to me and said something similar. Throughout, everyone showed their support in their own way.

 

‘This time feels different’

This was Solo’s third World Cup, and from the beginning, she writes, she noticed that the team was much more purposeful than in years gone by.

All of us went through every single day of the World Cup knowing exactly why we were there, and believing in a common goal. … This wasn’t like previous tournaments. In previous tourneys, we enjoyed each game a little bit more. We felt the emotions, and had more fun. But in the end, we came up short of what we had prepared our entire lives to accomplish.

In Canada, when we were back in our room after the second game, Carli Lloyd said to me, “I can’t explain it, but this time just feels different.” … We were there to take care of business.

 

Tested immediately

Solo knew the United States’ first opponent, Australia, would be trouble.

I remembered our last couple of friendlies against Australia, and the scores really didn’t do them justice. … I knew Australia was going to be tough.

And they were. They came flying out of the gate with a lot of speed. It was our first game, so we were a little slow and tentative, which is natural and normal. So we definitely had to weather the storm, right from the opening whistle. … They had the one goal [the final score was 3-1], but they could have had many more. We were definitely tested, and we responded.

 

Solo made two impressive saves in the first 15 minutes.

If we had fallen behind early on, it could have been an opening game nightmare. … Instead, the opposite happened. After those early shots from Australia, we were like, “Okay, we weathered the storm. Now let’s pick up our play.” Everyone on defense knew I had their backs, and they got stronger and stronger -— not just in that game, but over the rest of the tournament.

 

Ignoring Pia

Before the United States’ second group match, against Sweden, the Internet was abuzz over an interview with Pia Sundhage in The New York Times.

Peter Holgersson/The New York Times

Peter Holgersson/The New York Times

Sundhage, the Swedish coach and former U.S. coach, had some fairly blunt things to say the Americans:

• They grumbled about having to stay in hotels so much. “I never understood it. I love living in hotels; everything is taken care of,” Sundhage said.

• Trying to establish personal connections with them was a waste of time.  “You know, I talk to them about their mom, their dad, their boyfriend, their girlfriend or whatever, and you know what? It goes in one ear and out the other. I try. I really try. I remember I sat with Amy Rodriguez for a long time once, talking and talking, and still I don’t know her family.”

• Carli Lloyd “was a challenge to coach. … When she felt that we had faith in her, she could be one of the best players. But if she began to question that faith, she could be one of the worst.”

• Abby Wambach, playing in her fourth World Cup, had no business starting.

• And Solo? She was one of Sundhage’s biggest coaching challenges, “especially when it comes to trouble.”

Solo’s take:

She made a bunch of comments about number of our players, including me. It didn’t bother us. By that point, a week into the World Cup, we weren’t paying attention to anything that anyone was saying.

 

‘Learning from each game’

The game against Sweden ended in a 0-0 draw. “We didn’t play well,” Solo says.

You don’t really want to tie and not score any goals in your second game in the tournament. At the same time, Sweden was a great team. Truth is that they could have won if it wasn’t for Meghan Klingenberg’s amazing clearance off the line on one of their set pieces.

 

You can see Klingenberg’s dazzling save at the 1:35 mark in the highlights video below:

 

Even though the U.S. team wasn’t impressive against Sweden, Solo writes,

We were learning from each game. We watched film afterward, we made changes on set pieces both offensively and defensively. And with every game, we got better.

Surviving ‘group of death’

With a 1-0 win over Nigeria, the Americans won their group, statistically the toughest in the tournament.

The goal was by Abby Wambach.

“It was an awesome goal … I was glad Abby scored it,” Solo writes. ” She’d never scored off a volley like that on a set piece before.”

It’s at the 0:33 mark:

 

“The really encouraging thing,” Solo says, “was that we all knew we hadn’t played our best soccer yet.”

 

The knockout round

In the United States’ first knockout game, Colombia made it clear that it wasn’t in Canada just to pick up a participation trophy.

The thing that stood out to me about the game against Colombia was the intensity. It was something I noticed against Nigeria, too. …

Until this World Cup, the only countries that we’ve had an intense rivalry with have been Japan, Germany, Canada and Brazil. The rivalries with Japan and Germany are beautiful to me. There’s so much respect for the talent on the other team. … The rivalries with Canada and Brazil are a little more chippy and physical. It always feels like both countries have something to prove against us.

For the most part, though, the other nations we played treated us like they were fans, and there were times when they would ask to take pictures with us.

But in this World Cup, for the first time ever, teams like Nigeria and Colombia played like they had something to prove, too. It was chippy on the field. … Teams had something against the United States that I’d never seen before. They wanted to beat us, and even if they couldn’t, they felt someone else would. …

In a funny way, I think it was a sign of just how much women’s soccer has evolved.

 

‘The real Carli Lloyd’

“It was against China,” Solo writes, “that everyone got their first look at the real Carli Lloyd in the 2015 World Cup.”

Lloyd broke a scoreless tie in the 53rd minute, heading in what would be the game’s only goal. The win pushed the United States on to the final four.

Solo says Lloyd emerged once she let herself run free.

Like all of us — especially all the veteran players — Carli wanted nothing less than to bring home the World Cup trophy. … She expected the best from herself in every way. Everything was very regimented, from her training habits to her hydration….

But for those first couple of games, Carli wanted to win so badly that she wasn’t playing like herself. She was tight.

Between games, she wasn’t giving herself breaks, either. She headed right to her room after we were done playing. She wouldn’t watch any of the other games. In the beginning, I let Carli be on her own, but from time to time, I started to remind her, “Make sure you’re enjoying this. You deserve to.”

It was after we played Sweden that Carli started to loosen up a little. We had an off day in Vancouver, and she told me, “I just need to get away!” … I convinced her to come to Grouse Mountain with me … We went up in a gondola to the top of the mountain. … far away from anything that had to do with soccer. Afterward, she told me she had needed that day more than anything.

 

A rising star

The other standout against China was Morgan Brian, the holding midfielder who is the youngest player on the team.

Morgan Brian. (USA Today Sports)

Morgan Brian. (USA Today Sports)

Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday were out because of yellow cards, so we needed Morgan to step up. I was so proud of her. Morgan was all over the place. She played defensively so that Carli could go forward, and she was flying around the field, making sliding tackles and taking hits. She was absolutely incredible.

 

 

‘Amazing matchup’

“I wish every game could be like our semifinal against Germany,” Solo writes.

Those are the games I love to play in. I live for them. You see the best of the best athletes. You see special plays and heartbreak. It’s everything any fan could want, and any player could want, too.

It was an amazing matchup. You had two great coaches. … The German team is a truly professional team with great, special players. We have respect not only for their skills, but for their organization and tactics as well.

It wouldn’t have felt the same winning the World Cup if we never got to play Germany. It was a true test for us.

 

Germany’s missed chance

Solo has quite a bit to say about Celia Sasic’s infamously blown penalty kick. Sasic is one of the most dependable, technically sound strikers in the world. Yet, she missed what may have been the biggest shot of her career.

Celia Sasic after she sent a PK wide of the net. (Michael Chow, USA Today Sports)

Celia Sasic after she sent a PK wide. (Michael Chow, USA Today Sports)

Solo has an explanation: “I found a way to make Sasic miss.”

One of things I promised myself before the World Cup was that I going to do everything I could to be ready. I left no page unturned. I wanted to be prepared in every way for any situation that might arise. As we headed into the knockout rounds, I put together notes on the penalty kickers for every team we faced. I watched film. I studied their approaches. I looked for any advantage I could get.

 

Hope Solo's handwritten notes on penalty kickers for opposing teams. "Player numbers have been blurred out,' she writes. "(The Olympocs are coming up.)" (hopesolo.com)

Hope Solo’s handwritten notes on opposing penalty kickers.  Players’  names and numbers have been blurred out. “The Olympics are coming up,” she explains. (hopesolo.com)

I spent hours studying Sasic in the days before we played Germany. She’s their best penalty kicker, and one of the best in the world. It’s almost like a perfected art for her. With most players, you can pick up tendencies. There are little things that people do when they shoot to the right — their arm swing, for example — that they may do differently when they shoot to the left. …

I watched every penalty kick of Sasic’s we could find from the last few years. Fifty percent of the time, she went to the left, 50 percent she went to the right. … And over the past two years, she had perfected her approach for each side. Everything … looked exactly the same no matter which way she shot the ball….

The only thing we had to work with was the rhythm she used to shoot the ball. For years, she’d done the same thing: Put the ball down, take three steps back, and go as soon as the whistle blew.

If I had to face her, I knew I would have to keep her from getting into her rhythm.

Before Sasic took her penalty kick, I walked all the way to the corner flag. Part of that was wanting to calm myself down. Part of it was making her wait for me. I also wanted her to see the entire goal without me in it, for it to look big. So she went up, put the ball down, and saw the entire goal before I was even there. Then I took my time coming back, walking out between her and the ball, and then slowly backing up into the goal. The next time she looked at the goal — with me in it — I wanted it to look smaller. During that whole time, I noticed that she wouldn’t look at me.

Then the weirdest thing happened. Sasic started high-fiving her teammates, almost like she had already scored. It was like she needed them to help pump her up. I remember thinking how odd that was, especially because I had never seen her do it before on any of the penalty kicks I watched on film. Then she shot.

I went the wrong way, but she missed the entire goal.

 

‘I need you right now!’

Sasic had that golden opportunity because of a critical mistake by Julie Johnston, the young American defender who, overall, was superb in the World Cup.

In the 59th minute, with the game still scoreless, Johnston drew a yellow card for pulling down Alexandra Popp in the box as Popp was advancing with the ball. The yellow, with its automatic PK, was bad enough. And many observers, including USA partisans, thought Johnston was lucky not to be thrown out on a red card.

Johnston, who admits to being “one of the most emotional ones on the team,” was beside herself. She was sobbing on the field. She was sure her error had handed Germany a 1-0 lead.

Several teammates tried to console her, including her goalkeeper:

Julie had been distraught after the penalty was first called. And even though Sasic had missed and Julie was smiling afterward, she was still crying, beating herself up for having committed the foul.

I took her aside for a moment, put my arms on her shoulders, and told her, “Julie, we’re fine. We’re in a good place.” Something I said made her laugh, and then I told her, “The game is not over yet, and we need you! I need you right now! I need you!”

She nodded, wiped off her tears, and said, “I know. Okay. I’ll be there.”

And she was. Thirty minutes later, we had won, 2-0, and were headed to the final.

 

Hope Solo has a talk with Julie Johnston.

Hope Solo has a talk with Julie Johnston.

 

Winning It All

Going into the final against Japan, Solo says, “I absolutely knew we were going to win. … I just felt really confident —100% confident.”

This is no slight against Japan, which “had been playing great. … Tactically I thought they would play us really strong, and I thought it would be really tough to score on them because they would be organized.”

From the opening whistle, you could feel how loose we were. We were opening up our play. You could feel the confidence and excitement of our players, more so than in the Germany game. Germany was intense. This was more fun. …

Winning the World Cup had been my dream since I was young. I was just a naive kid who loved sports, but I believed I could do anything. I believed in myself. … And nothing was going to discourage me from reaching that dream. Nothing.

I pursued that dream my entire life, with everything I had, until the 16th minute of the 2015 World Cup Final. When Carli scored from midfield — midfield! — and put us ahead, 4-0, I realized for the first time that my dream was going to come true. It was Carli’s third goal of the game, and after she scored, she ran the length of the field, all the way to me, where she collapsed into my arms. After so many years of sacrifice and hard work, everything we had ever hoped for as soccer players and teammates was suddenly becoming a reality.

Then the rest of the team piled on.

I hadn’t allowed myself to shed a single tear until that point, not through everything that had happened from the start of the tournament to the final. But right then, I started to tear up because I knew we were going to win.

 

Honoring the past

The final section of Solo’s journal is a surprise, and a pleasant one. She pays tribute to “the generations of players who came before us,” the pioneers who “provided us with an amazing foundation, the first building blocks of a successful women’s program.

They gave us an opportunity to play soccer for the USA. They also created of a culture of winning, and that’s something that we’ve never lost sight of. That’s the culture I grew up watching. That was the culture of the team when I first came on. That’s what we’ve been about ever since. It’s what makes our team great, and separates us from every other nation.

It’s refreshing to read these words from someone who has always been dismissive (many would say envious) of her predecessors, especially the ’99ers.

Over the years, Solo has gone out of her way to pick public fights with many of the game’s biggest heroes, from Julie Foudy to Brandi Chastain to Kristine Lilly. I’ve always thought the sniping and petty insults were beneath her. They made her look small, and as she showed again this summer, she deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the giants of the game, the Hamms and Akers and Foudys and Lillys and Scurrys.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Hope Solo has been hauling a very large bundle of insecurities through life, probably more than most of us. (This comes across clearly in her 2013 memoir.) Since returning from her 30-day suspension in February, she has acknowledged seeking professional counseling, and maybe one result of that experience has been to help her form a peace with herself, with those around her, and with the past.

Now that she’s lifted her own World Cup trophy, now that she’s reached her mountaintop, Solo has finally  acknowledged publicly what we all know — that she stands on the shoulders of those who came before her. Implicit in that acknowledgement is the realization that others will someday stand on her shoulders.

Solo embraces this. Good for her.  And good luck to her.

Things have progressed, and we’re going to continue to push the envelope, whether it’s about evolving the game, or fighting for equality for women in our sport. And the generation after us will advance things in ways that we never thought were possible.

We’re all part of that history. It’s what we share in common as members of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

And as much as it was my dream to win the World Cup as a girl, that dream belongs to all of us now — my teammates and coaches, former players and our fans. We truly are one nation, one team, and once again, we’re the World Cup Champions.

And that means we all have three stars.

 

Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo, world champions. (USA Today)

Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo, world champions. (USA Today)

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