Shutouts in goal, shutout of media

Hope Solo isn’t talk­ing to re­porters, but no one can ques­tion her game.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter

MON­TREAL — It’s been a quiet Women’s World Cup for Hope Solo.

On the f ield, the U. S. goal­keeper has been called on to make just 11 saves in five games. And off the field, she’s been all but in­audi­ble, an­swer­ing just three ques­tions af­ter giv­ing up a goal in the open­ing match.

She hasn’t an­swered another ques­tion nor al­lowed another goal since, mak­ing her the only keeper in the World Cup who has more shutouts than ques­tions an­swered.

“Each player can make their own de­ci­sion in re­gards in speak­ing to the media,” a U. S. Soc­cer spokesman said of Solo, the lone Amer­i­can player who re­fuses to stop on her way from the locker room to the team bus af­ter games.

If the silent Solo hasn’t been ac­count­able to the media, though, she has been to

her team­mates, with her U. S. record of 423 score­less min­utes in a World Cup al­low­ing the Amer­i­cans to ad­vance to the semi­fi­nals un­beaten af­ter a pair of 1- 0 wins and a score­less draw.

“She’s the best goal­keeper in the world,” de­fender Ali Krieger said, an opin­ion shared by Coach Jill El­lis.

But she’s of­ten been the most dis­rup­tive and com­pli­cated player on the team as well, one whose list of mis­deeds ri­vals her list of records.

Solo was dis­missed from the team — and os­tra­cized by team­mates — dur­ing the 2007 World Cup af­ter pub­licly crit­i­ciz­ing Coach Greg Ryan’s de­ci­sion to pull her in fa­vor of Bri­ana Scurry in the semi­fi­nals. Then came Twit­ter­gate at the 2012 Olympic Games, when Solo em­bar­rassed team­mates with pointed re­marks made on so­cial media.

Yet that was just a warmup for the last 13 months. In June 2014, Solo was charged with two counts of do­mes­tic as­sault af­ter an al­ter­ca­tion with her nephew and half­sis­ter. And then in Jan­uary she was rid­ing shot­gun when her hus­band, for­mer NFL player Jer­ramy Stevens, was ar­rested for DUI while be­hind the wheel of a U. S. Soc­cer van. Stevens later pleaded no con­test.

In the f irst in­stance, a judge threw out the case, though Kirkland, Wash., pros­e­cu­tors are plan­ning to ap­peal that de­ci­sion. In the sec­ond, Solo was sus­pended for a month by U. S. Soc­cer of­fi­cials who, hav­ing grown tired of the drama, hinted strongly that she might have to watch the World Cup on tele­vi­sion.

U. S. Soc­cer Pres­i­dent Su­nil Gu­lati re­fused to say whether the con­di­tions of Solo’s re­in­state­ment in­volved treat­ment for sub­stance abuse or coun­sel­ing.

In her blog, Solo cred­its vis­its to a ther­a­pist and an Eastern medicine healer with help­ing get her back on the field.

What­ever the rea­son, El­lis has no­ticed a dif­fer­ence.

“She’s done a fan­tas­tic job with this team, with this pro­gram,” El­lis said af­ter last week’s quar­ter­fi­nal win over China, one in which Solo earned her ninth World Cup shutout and a U. S. record 134th ca­reer win.

“On the f ield she’s tremen­dous. I’ve re­ally no­ticed — on the field, off the field — just a real good fo­cus.”

And that fo­cus may have been helped by her si­lence. Solo stopped talk­ing shortly af­ter ESPN, on the eve of the World Cup, re­ported new de­tails of the year- old do­mes­tic abuse case, lead­ing to ques­tions that were more about her per­sonal life than her soc­cer per­for­mance.

So she stopped tak­ing ques­tions.

What she hasn’t had to an­swer for though is her play be­cause, at 33 and with two Olympic cham­pi­onships and a bronze and sil­ver medal from two World Cups, Solo is ar­guably play­ing the best soc­cer of her ca­reer.

Since re­turn­ing from her sus­pen­sion in March, Solo has 10 shutouts in 13 starts. And she hasn’t al­lowed more than a goal in any game.

She owes much of her suc­cess at this World Cup to a young back line that has jelled quickly, shut­ting down op­pos­ing at­tacks be­fore they get close to the goal. And that’s given Solo long pe­ri­ods with noth­ing much to do.

In a score­less tie with Swe­den, for ex­am­ple, Solo wasn’t called on to make a save. And in the sec­on­dround shutout of Colom­bia, she didn’t face a shot un­til the 84th minute.

“I think she’s very happy about that,” Krieger said.

Added midfielder Mor­gan Brian: “She’s been used to that for so many years. But she’s made some saves that have kept us in games. That’s what her job is.”

Just don’t con­fuse in­ac­tiv­ity with inat­ten­tion. Be­cause while Solo goes mute af­ter games she doesn’t stop talk­ing dur­ing them.

“She or­ga­nizes the de­fense. And any­one help­ing in the mid­field,” Brian said. “That’s huge for that po­si­tion.”

So are the com­ments pos­i­tive or pro­fane?

“That de­pends on what hap­pens in the play,” Mor­gan said with a smile.

Now the U. S. team’s fu­ture in this World Cup may very well de­pend on Solo. Although the Amer­i­cans have al­lowed just one score in the tour­na­ment — none in their last four games — they have yet to play a team like Ger­many, which they will face on Tues­day.

Also un­beaten, the Ger­mans have scored a tour­na­ment- best 20 goals and are av­er­ag­ing nearly 12 shots on tar­get per game — more than twice as many as any other team.

Just one goal against the well- rested Solo could be too many for the U. S. since Ger­man keeper Na­dine Angerer, a for­mer world player of the year, is al­most as good, hav­ing been scored upon just three times in five games.

“She’s con­sis­tent. She’s con­fi­dent. She does her job re­ally well,” Krieger said of Angerer, a for­mer Frank­furt team­mate. “They re­ally look for her for mak­ing those MVP plays. She’s a leader and that’s what lead­ers do.”

Told it sounded like she was de­scrib­ing Solo, Krieger laughed.

“Hope’s bet­ter,” she said.

‘ On the field she’s tremen­dous. I’ve re­ally no­ticed — on the field, off the field — just a real good fo­cus.’

— JILL EL­LIS, U. S. coach, on Hope Solo

Wang Lili Xin­hua / Sipa

GOAL­KEEPER Hope Solo, shown dur­ing a match against Swe­den dur­ing the group stage, has set a U. S. record of 423 score­less min­utes in a World Cup.

Kevin C. Cox Getty I mages

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