Hope Solo slamming coach Jill Ellis isn’t going to help her get back in the USWNT

Hope Solo will be eligible to return to the U.S. Women’s National Team later this month following a suspension for comments she made at the Rio Olympics. 60 Minutes spoke to the goalkeeper in an interview the aired Tuesday night, where she again made it clear she wants to return to the team.

The most interesting part of the interview, however, may be the part they chose not to air. According to 60 Minutes correspondent Norah O’Donnell, Solo called USWNT coach Jill Ellis “a poor leader and bad tactician,” although Solo’s comments were not shown.

Since Solo’s return is entirely up to Ellis after the goalkeeper’s suspension is served, calling Ellis out as a bad coach is a pretty poor strategy for reinstatement. Ellis, when asked about Solo’s return, has always been coy, saying she hasn’t thought about it — and it’s doubtful Solo is getting on her good side.

But, for as controversial as Solo is, there may be a kernel of truth in her comments, at least as far as the 2016 Olympics are concerned. It’s the sort of truth that a current player on the squad would never utter, but a truth nonetheless: Ellis got a lot wrong during the tournament — and even before it started.

We don’t know what Solo may have been referring to since 60 Minutes did not air what she said, but Ellis’ first poor decision came when Megan Rapinoe made the Olympic roster. She was coming off an injury and hadn’t played in the previous seven months, which made her an unnecessary risk that later backfired.

During that doomed quarterfinal match — the one where Solo called Sweden “cowards” afterward and got suspended — Ellis’ game management was poor. She wasted substitutions, including a double substitution on Rapinoe, and the match finished with Tobin Heath, the USWNT’s most creative attacker, playing as right back.

Even worse, perhaps, was that the USWNT knew exactly the bunkered system Sweden would play, and still couldn’t break it down. That haunting fact is probably the catalyst for Ellis’s recent experiments with midfield-heavy formations, like a 3-5-2 and a 3-4-3 — experiments that have started since Solo left the team.

That Solo was so willing to criticize Ellis so openly — even if 60 Minutes didn’t provide us the context — may be indicative that Solo doesn’t expect to be reinstated with the national team.

The surest sign Solo may be done was the roster for the USWNT’s upcoming SheBelieves Cup that came out on Wednesday. Although that tournament will be played in March, after Solo will be eligible for reinstatement, the goalkeepers who are being called in for it are Jane Campbell, Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris. Solo could conceivably be added later, but it seems unlikely.


And that’s the thing: the USWNT may not actually need Solo anymore.

While some blame on Ellis may be fair, Solo herself was very uneven in that tournament. She saved the USWNT in a tough match vs. France, but fell apart and singlehandedly conceded a shocking draw to Colombia.

Her form in Rio looked the worst that it has in a while, and given that she will be 37 by the 2019 World Cup, Ellis is smart not to rely only on Solo anymore. Naeher and Harris saw precious few minutes while Solo was the No. 1, but now there is an opportunity to build more depth at the goalkeeper spot. Even if Solo were to return, having a better Plan B at goalkeeper looks more important than ever.

Solo told 60 Minutes she thinks she can still be the No. 1 goalkeeper, if given the chance.

“Nobody beat me out physically,” she said. “And for me not to have the opportunity to see if there’s another goalkeeper better than me, that doesn’t seem right.”

Right or not, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for Ellis to call Solo back in on Feb. 22, when her suspension will have been served.