2011 WCup: US GK Solo says she learned from 2007

Hope Solo thought the memory and misery of the 2007 World Cup

would be left far behind as she got closer to this year’s

championships.

Three weeks before the tournament kicks off, she recognizes the

folly of that belief.

”2007 comes up now more than it ever has. I guess with the

first World Cup since that one being here … ”

Her voice trails off and Solo’s eyes drop. But only for a second

or two.

”I thought after we won the gold in ’08 in Beijing, and then

all the team unity we have built with (coach) Pia Sundhage from the

time she arrived after ’07, that we would be way beyond ’07,” Solo

said. ”But I can see how it can be a story and people bring it up.

I expect it and I am fine with it. We are not trying to sweep ’07

under the rug. You learn from it; you have to learn from it.

There’s nothing to hide. Things like that happen.

”I have no regrets. None. I don’t live with regrets. You learn

and you move on. I have.”

What Solo has moved on from is one of the ugliest incidents in

what has been a generally positive and productive existence for the

U.S. women’s national team.

Having beaten out Briana Scurry, the keeper for the United

States when it so memorably won the 1999 World Cup – her penalty

kick save in the shootout led to Brandi Chastain’s winning shot –

Solo backstopped the Americans to the 2007 semifinals in China.

With the slick and quick Brazilians up next, coach Greg Ryan opted

to sit Solo for Scurry.

The U.S. team was routed 4-0.

After the loss, Solo said: ”It was the wrong decision, and I

think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that.

There’s no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves. … You

have to live in the present. And you can’t live by big names. You

can’t live in the past.”

Ryan dismissed Solo from the World Cup team. She wasn’t allowed

on the bench for the third-place game, did not participate in the

medal ceremony and flew home from China on her own.

Soon after, Ryan was replaced by Sundhage.

Solo already had gone through a difficult personal stretch. Her

father, Jeffrey, had died just weeks before the tournament began.

She’d dedicated the World Cup to him, then posted three shutouts

before being benched.

With the 2008 Olympics close on the horizon, Solo not only

needed to impress a new coaching staff, she had to recapture the

faith of her teammates, some of whom openly criticized how she

handled being replaced by Scurry.

Convincing Sundhage of her skills was the easiest part for

Solo.

”Hope has moved on and (2007) is not something we talk about

any longer,” Sundhage said. ”She showed in Beijing what kind of a

goalkeeper she is.”

Solo started 27 games in 2008, by far the most of any year since

joining the national squad in 2000. She was 23-1 with 13 shutouts

in ’08, and her spectacular saves against Brazil in the overtime

victory in the gold medal game remain career highlights.

Mending relationships with the other players came quickly

enough, too.

Solo issued an apology through U.S. Soccer just before an

exhibition tour against Mexico later in 2007. She built on

that.

None of her current teammates say the 2007 World Cup is on their

minds, either.

”The thing with Hope and I is we are pretty honest people,”

said Abby Wambach, whose 118 career goals tops the U.S. team. ”In

any difficult time for all of us, and mostly for her, it has taught

the most valuable lesson any pro athlete can learn: believing in

ourselves that we are the best and can be the best again. It’s that

inner confidence, and for a goalkeeper, it’s a key quality to have,

and Hope always has had it.

”I believe we have grown up together into weathered veterans.

She’s a winner, does whatever it takes to win games. I like to

think I am, too.”

Wambach, headed to her third World Cup, added: ”The beautiful

thing is her intensity and leadership in goal makes it a calming

force for the rest of us. We know she will make the big save, keep

us organized. She has the confidence you always want to see.”

That confidence has been tested physically in the last two

years. Solo injured her right shoulder and kept playing on it. She

admits now it was the absolute wrong decision.

”I was playing on it and I shouldn’t have been,” Solo said.

”The hardest decision really was going to have the surgery. But it

got to the point where the World Cup was coming up and even if I

was able to fight through the pain, it wasn’t getting better.”

Solo consulted the national team’s medical staff and noted

orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, and once she opted for the surgery,

a huge mental weight was lifted.

”Instantly, I turned it into a fight to get back,” she said.

”It was, `Look, you are going to be out the next nine months, so

do the rehab the best you can, make the best recovery you

can.”’

Then the United States lost to Mexico in World Cup qualifying

and had to go through a two-game series with Italy to get into the

tournament. It was a stunning setback for the top-ranked Americans,

and it troubled Solo that she wasn’t around to help.

”So mentally, the rehab was good,” she said. ”I was prepared

to sit out the World Cup qualifying, didn’t expect it to be a big

deal or that it would be that hard. Then we had our mishap against

Mexico and it made me a little nervous.”

But the U.S. women swept Italy, and Solo returned to the lineup

in April against England. Sundhage quickly recognized Solo was not

yet at full strength.

Solo saw it, too.

”Getting back on the field was the hardest time physically,”

she said. ”You would celebrate small victories, like doing

push-ups or pull-ups. But then I would think, `That’s not good

enough for Pia.’

”When I was back with the team, I was expecting to get the 90

(minutes) and to win my spot back. The clock was ticking and I was

expecting the full game against England. But I wasn’t ready, only

got half a game, and that was eye-opening.

”I was favoring the shoulder, doing some things to either

protect it or things not natural for me. You can’t play that way. I

knew I need a little bit more time.”

And now?

”I’m 100 times better,” she said

She doesn’t mean simply since early April.

”When I came into the (national) camp in 1999, I made it there

all on athletic ability,” Solo recalled. ”It was my first camp

and, really, I was just an athlete, not an overall player.

”Now … night and day. My technical skills are much better,

I’ve kept my fitness when I am not injured and definitely have my

speed and quickness. I mentally understand the game. I organize the

defense much better. I really take pride in all of that.”

Next up, World Cup redemption?

”I am incredibly looking forward to it and it’s not all about

what happened in 2007,” she said. ”Hey, it’s been way too long,

12 years, since we brought home that trophy. Twelve years is a long

time.”