Hope Solo states her case for being USA’s all-time best goalkeeper

Hope Solo now holds the record for most shutouts in a United States women's national team uniform.

Rick Bowmer/AP

So now it’s settled: Hope Solo is the best goalkeeper in the history of the United States women’s national team. She broke Briana Scurry’s record by earning her 72nd shutout in a U.S. uniform on Saturday night, in an 8-0 win against Mexico.

The shutout, earned in her 154th US appearance, cemented a long-held impression that her abilities and achievements exceed those of any American goalkeeper who came before her. With another 16 victories, she’ll take another record from Scurry, albeit a less relevant one: the all-time wins mark of 133. That will make Solo’s claim as the very best statistically unassailable, if it isn’t already.

Upon the final whistle of an exceedingly quiet game for her, Solo strolled towards the half-way line as one teammate after another wrapped her in a heartfelt hug. 

"The record is extremely important to me," she had told FOXsoccer.com before the game. "I’ve been on this team since 1999. It’s been 15 years of hard work, dedication, sweat, blood, tears. I’m excited because it goes down in history."

Her relief was palpable after the game, as she spoke by the sideline as fans shouted her name. "I knew in good time it would come," she said. "So there wasn’t too much pressure until the final minutes of the game, when I started thinking, ‘Oh no, there’s a corner. Oh no, there’s a free kick. Let’s just get the shutout record and be done with it.’"

Solo’s long-time teammate Abby Wambach had learned nothing new though. "At the end of the day, she’s the best regardless of whatever record she breaks or not," she said.

It was Solo’s night. But as so often with her, things aren’t entirely straightforward. For her immense and undeniable talent, there has tended to be controversy as well. That’s no less true now. Solo currently faces two domestic violence charges for assaulting her sister and nephew in June. Her case will be heard in a court just outside of Seattle on November 4 — a mere week after Women’s World Cup qualifiers wrap up. She has pleaded innocent, but if she is convicted, she faces up to six months in jail.

Prison time would obviously throw a wrench into would-be World Cup preparations and hurt her team — the drop-off in ability among the goalkeepers behind her in the pecking order is frightfully steep. She was the goalkeeper of the tournament at the 2011 Women’s World Cup and won the Bronze Ball as well, becoming the first net-minder to be named one of the three best players overall. She is one of the U.S. team’s true stars, with a mainstream appeal reflected by a well-diversified portfolio of endorsement deals.

Off the field, however, she has at times flouted the unspoken code of conduct of the women’s national team. Rather than show the requisite reverence for the program’s gilded past, she has been outspoken, publicly criticizing current and former teammates and coaches alike. Away from soccer, her life is polemical. There was the alleged slap from her partner on Dancing with the Stars and a domestic violence incident on the eve of her wedding in late 2012 — no charges were pressed then. Now a second such case hangs over her.

Yet when she took the field for warm-ups, she received as loud a cheer as ever. There were plenty of Solo jerseys to be seen in the stands, which is remarkable for any goalkeeper and telling of her stature.

Hers remains a difficult case. Solo has been convicted of nothing. Yet a few weeks ago, a USA Today editorial called for her to be suspended from the team, if she wouldn’t resign from it voluntarily. It likened the situation to those of swimmer Michael Phelps taking a bong hit or NFL player Ray Rice punching out his wife. The difference, however, is that there exists no incriminating evidence of Solo’s alleged misbehavior, prior to a conviction, unlike in Phelps’ and Rice’s cases.

Solo, for all her flaws, has a right to a presumption of innocence until she is proven guilty. That’s how our justice system works; that’s democracy. Yet the column went on to criticize US Soccer for acknowledging her impending record before it was broken.

HOPE-FUL WISH

This is a thorny situation for US Soccer. The Americans are desperate to finally win a third World Cup in Canada next summer and end a 16-year drought in the process. Their hopes of doing so are acutely diminished without Solo in goal. They have safeguarded the carefully-crafted image of the women’s team though, and the stain of a conviction, or even the memory of the case, could dull that sheen somewhat.

You could argue that female athletes are held to a higher moral standard than men, and that this is especially true on the U.S. national team — which seems to function as a vessel for undue moralizing. Somebody think of the children, a chorus of voices quickly crows, citing the potentially harmful influence on all the little girls out there when their heroes misbehave. Men seem to get away with a good deal more without anybody fretting over the well-being of all the little boys out there.

Whatever else she has going on, Solo is one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time and now has a record to back that up. Even if some would rather she go away, her accomplishment merits unqualified celebration. Like many of her male counterparts, her comportment doesn’t appear to be unimpeachable off the field, but these are still only accusations. We can change our minds about her personality — independent of her performances — if it ever comes to a conviction. But it hasn’t yet. And there are too many people who forget that.

For now, all that we know for sure, all that we have evidence of capable of standing up to scrutiny, is that no other woman has ever recorded so many shutouts in a USA jersey.