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Hope Solo at a crossroads: the factors influencing her future

Her biggest obstacle for a return to USWNT and NWSL soccer may be herself

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If there was ever a player more prone to contradictions than Hope Solo, I don’t know them.

In her latest interview for 60 Minutes Sports on Showtime, the 35 year-old goalkeeper seemed to want back on the team, noting that no other goalkeeper has beaten her out physically or talent wise for a spot, while being unable to stop herself from calling out both the coaching staff of the team and the players in their fight for a new CBA.

But before we dive into the comments Solo made about Ellis or about what might prevent her from seeing the field again in a USWNT kit, we should talk about what she said about her shoulder replacement.

The Shoulder Dilemma

Quoting Solo: “The rehab is tough, it’s about a 2 year full recovery. I’m way ahead of schedule. So I expect to be back and able to preform at a high level within the next year.”

If she is fit to play in the next year that would put her on a roster in 2018; but which roster?

There are three questions if she’s fit to play in 2018 that come to mind: 1) Would USSF make her a subsidized player, 2) Would she play in the NWSL if she wasn’t a subsidized player, 3) If 1 + 2 are both “no” does she go overseas where she will make more money but it would be even more improbable that she makes it back to the USWNT?

Her two likely landing pads in the NWSL would be Seattle, which she has a deep history with both the city and the Reign, and the North Carolina Courage, as she and her husband are building a home there.

Head Coach and GM Laura Harvey has said some glowing things about Solo over the years, but this quote to Dan Lauletta in his draft edition of The Lowdown might be the most telling, “She (Hope) can play for the club as long as she wants.”

The only team I believe she would even consider sharing games, let alone being a full blown backup for, is Seattle. And even that is dicey.

We have no real way of knowing if North Carolina Courage Head Coach Paul Riley would want Solo on his roster. But, with the talent he has at goalkeeper, it’s unlikely he’d be willing to add her and her unwillingness to play backup in such an environment to the roster.

The Everything Else Dilemma

Outside of talk about her shoulder recovery, which might render everything else a non-factor if her shoulder can’t hold up to professional goalkeeping, Solo seems hell-bent on burning as much of the few bridges she has left as possible.

60 Minutes Sports didn’t air the direct quote from Solo, but instead quoted her in a voice over by Norah O’Donnell, who conducted the interview, calling USWNT Head Coach Jill Ellis “a bad leader and poor tactician”.

As I watched the piece, I was reminded of how long this battle has been going on for Solo. She has been the first - and in some cases nearly the only - choice at goalkeeper for the USWNT for over 10 years, and spent nearly 20 total with the team. She’s had a front row seat to seeing CBA negotiations break down, watching as teammates backed down when she would have likely preferred the group to stand their ground. To say there is some bad history between her and the federation might be as big an understatement as can be made.

She seems to contradict herself every time she speaks, as though she has compartmentalized her actions and words vs her skills on the field. She clearly misses the team and feels as though a comeback is possible, while at the same time being blistering in her criticism of those who are able to bring her back into the fold. She seemed genuinely hurt that some of the staff she said she was close to have failed to reach out to her after her termination and suspension, yet she also made no effort herself to reach out to them.

When it comes to talking about her teammates, she is less pointed when asked if she thought they wanted her gone. “That’s saying a lot. We won a World Cup together, we fought hard for one another on the field and we’re in the fight of our lives, the fight for equal pay.”

Solo hasn’t been thrilled with the direction this round of CBA talks have headed in either. “The pressure falls on the players to go on strike like we discussed this entire last year, where we all sat there and said ‘we are ready for this.’ We are ready for this battle. We will do what it takes, because this is for women all across the world and this is a much bigger cause than just playing soccer. This is the right side of history. People with power don’t just give it up. You have to take it and you have to fight for it.”

The Going Forward Dilemma

So what happens to Hope Solo going forward?

I don’t know.

If her shoulder doesn’t hold up - if it can’t take repeatedly being landed on in practice or in games - then none of her comments will matter at the end of the day. Her legacy will end on a field in Brazil with a loss in the Olympics to the coach that might very well have saved her career 8 years before.

If her shoulder can hold up and she can play for a club where she is wanted, and remains off of any USWNT rosters, she might very well play for the Seattle Reign, splitting time with Haley Kopmeyer. She might end up as a backup for the North Carolina Courage or even go overseas for a season for one last big playing paycheck. She might play a few games, seeing the writing on the wall and just fade away. No final game, no send off, just gone.

The least likely option is that Hope Solo is called up to the national team again for the 2018 January camp. She is given a fair shot to make the roster and she returns for CONCACAF qualifying as either the starter or the backup to Alyssa Naeher or Jane Campbell. She is in the running for the Women’s World Cup in 2019 and has a chance to help defend the title she helped win.

Hope Solo’s future - when it comes to her shoulder, which team she will be on in 2018, and even if she will ever play again - is the perfect embodiment of the saying “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. We just don’t know. There are too many maybes, too many what-ifs.

No one knows what 2018 will bring for Hope Solo or the Reign or the USWNT. All I can say is betting against Solo hasn’t worked very well so far. She might be down, but she still is far from out.

Below is the full interview with Hope Solo.

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