Solo back on the pitch as US women aim for London

Solo back on the pitch as US women aim for London

Published Jan. 19, 2012 1:58 a.m. ET

The same nimble legs that danced with the stars were back on the pitch Wednesday, darting this way and that on the turf field at BC Place. When Abby Wambach's powerful left foot nailed an 18-yard blast that looked certain to be a goal, Hope Solo made an all-out stretch-dive to her right to save it.

Solo might have had to settle for fourth doing the chacha, Viennese waltz and the like with partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy on ''Dancing With the Stars'' last fall, but she's still the consensus No. 1 goalkeeper in the world.

''Now you have your everyday citizen knowing who I am,'' Solo said. ''For the game to grow, it needs to get more mainstream media, and I know `Dancing With the Stars' did just that.''

Solo feels the same about her recent nude photo shoot for ESPN the Magazine, yet another byproduct of the wave of attention the U.S. women's soccer team rode from its second-place finish at the World Cup in Germany last summer. It's a sport that still needs to sell itself, and Solo - outspoken, daring, talented - fits the bill perfectly.


Solo and her teammates are back to serious work over the next two weeks as they attempt to earn their way to the London Olympics. Eight teams are vying for two berths in the CONCACAF tournament; the U.S. opens on Friday against the Dominican Republic.

Might all the celebrity trappings, she was asked, cause her to lose her edge as a soccer player?

''I don't think anybody's ever questioned my focus,'' she shoots back. ''Very competitive, very driven.''

Her answer is so direct that's it hard to doubt, even if it seems incongruous coming from someone casually holding a cup of coffee and wearing a 6-foot-long fashionable gray scarf in the lobby of a high-end hotel.

''She is intimidating,'' midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. ''Not once you get to know her. She's just one of the girls once you get to know her. Hopefully she does intimidate other people.''

Solo's competitiveness showed on ''Dancing With the Stars.'' She put in 7-hour days for more than three months, exchanging her game-day ponytail for glamorous hairdos as she essentially learned how to dance from scratch. The fact that she was left to the mercy of the judges - instead of an unambiguous score based on, say, number of goals scored - left her in no way envious of figure skaters and gymnasts.

''I like when there's a clear winner, and a clear loser,'' she said. ''Absolutely. That's the sport I come from.''

It's been said athletes have a natural advantage on ''Dancing With the Stars,'' but what about the reverse? Did learning how to tango make her a better soccer player?

''No. Let's just be honest,'' she said. ''I stayed in shape, but there's many things you can do in the offseason to stay in shape. My endurance was good - I wasn't goalkeeper-fit. I lost some of my muscle strength. It's just different. I lost some of the intense footwork, so I did have to gain it all back.''

And then there were the nerves.

''Oh, my gosh, I have never been more nervous in my entire life,'' she said. ''And I think it's because you're doing something that you have no experience in, it's on live television, and it's in front of 23 million viewers. You could put 23 million viewers out in the stadium by the soccer field, and I would have no problem dealing with the nerves. But when you don't have any experience and confidence in what you're doing, it's a lot different.''

Earlier, at the practice, Solo wrapped up the session by walking to the bench and loading a large blue icepack one handful at a time. The pack goes on her right shoulder, the price she continually pays for trying to play through an injury before eventually having surgery in 2010. Thirteen anchors were inserted, and they keep her shoulder together.

''My shoulder will always be an issue,'' the 30-year-old goalkeeper said. ''But I'm getting through it. I look back at the World Cup and I ask myself `How in the world did you find a way to play?' And it's a testament to the doctors and to obviously my mentality to get back on the field. But I look back and I wonder how it did it because it's probably 10 times better now than it was just a few months ago.''

And does she think the shoulder might in any way keep her out of the Olympics? There's no use asking. She's determined to be there.


Joseph White can be reached at