Jill Ellis: Hope Solo ‘forced us to make a significant decision’

Erich Schlegel/Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time, United States national team coach Jill Ellis has publicly commented on U.S. Soccer’s decision to suspend goalkeeper Hope Solo for six months and terminate her contract.

Solo was ousted two weeks ago after she called the Swedish team that knocked the USA out the Olympics “cowards.” But Ellis backed up previous comments from U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati that the punishment was the result of repeated issues with the goalkeeper, not just Solo’s comments.

“Over time, there’s been off-the-field distractions and the federation has taken action,” Ellis said in comments released by U.S. Soccer on Tuesday. “Each time action has been taken, there’s been made clear an expectation that this would be the last time such a step would be necessary.”

“Sadly, Hope’s post-game comments forced us to make a significant decision. And it wasn’t a decision just made about comments, it was a sum total of actions that have unfortunately shone a negative light on our program.”

Solo has created a dilemma for U.S. Soccer over the years — she has been unquestionably the USWNT’s best goalkeeper, but she has also stirred controversy that has forced the federation to respond. She was suspended for a month last year after she was a passenger as her intoxicated husband drove a U.S. Soccer-rented van while she was in camp with the national team. She was also arrested in 2014 for an alleged assault, but U.S. Soccer said they’d let the legal process play out before taking any action. The case is still working through the legal system.

Her comments about Sweden — saying they played like “a bunch of cowards” as they packed in defensively and didn’t attack — came after an Olympics that was a mixed bag for Solo in terms of performance. She had a spectacular game against France but stumbled badly and made a huge unforced error in the following game against Colombia.

The Americans don’t have any goalkeepers with even a fraction of the international experience that Solo has, but Ellis said that regardless of Solo’s suspension, the plan was always to give less experienced goalkeepers playing time ahead of the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

“After the Olympics, the plan was always to prepare for 2019 and that means investing in the other ‘keepers and getting them playing time,” Ellis said. “That’s still the process and it’s the same for every position, but everything is about building for 2019 in the future.”

The USWNT returns to action for the first time since the Olympics and since Solo’s suspension on Sept. 15, when they will face Thailand for a friendly in Columbus, Ohio.