Scott Fowler

Solo turns into goldkeeper for women's soccer

Hope Solo has a surname that suits her.

The U.S. women's soccer goalie flies solo. Her position is solitary by nature. Her blunt comments less than a year ago got her ostracized by her teammates.

Yet there she was Thursday night, smack in the middle of the U.S. squad, holding up her gold medal and laughing with teammates as photographers snapped off one frame after another.

Solo had just shut down high-powered Brazil for 120 minutes as the United States won the championship game in overtime 1-0.

Solo had implied she would do something this good 11 months ago, when the Americans lost 4-0 to Brazil in the Women's World Cup. Solo had been benched just before the semifinal game because then-coach Greg Ryan played a hunch that worked out badly, and she was furious about it.

“It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that,” Solo said then to a Canadian reporter. “There's no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves.”

The team responded by banishing her from the third-place game against Norway, from the medal ceremony, from eating at team meals and from the team's flight home. It was humiliating, it was very public, and of course the press ate it up.

So after the gold-medal shutout, Solo was asked if she felt vindicated.

“Vindicated?” she said. “No, I don't even think about whatever I said last year. I'm just enjoying this moment right now. I feel great. I just won a … gold medal! I feel amazing.”

The Brazilian players, who also lost the gold-medal game to the United States four years ago in the Olympics, felt much differently. When the game ended, the Brazilian players collapsed where they were, immersed in private pain.

Goalie Barbara, who had let in the only goal in the 96th minute when Carli Lloyd banged in a 20-yard shot, fell on her back and sobbed uncontrollably.

Brazilian star Cristiane cried while she knelt. Star forward Marta sat alone, looking angry.

And Solo leaped into the middle of a team hug.

Brazil outshot the Americans 16-11. The Brazilians possessed the ball 58percent of the time. They had 14 corner kicks compared with the Americans' three.

Yet they could never score. “We dominated the whole match,” Brazilian coach Jorge Barcellos lamented.

Solo batted away every shot that came near her, most notably on a Marta attempt from short range. Solo, who looks like she could be the kid sister of actress Sharon Stone, played beautifully every time a Brazilian score seemed imminent.

“I always play better under pressure,” Solo said, “so I had no doubt I was going to play one of my best games.”

It is obvious that all of the wounds haven't healed from Solo's outburst last year. Team insiders say she still goes her own way at times, and she certainly isn't beloved by everyone.

This sort of “agree to disagree” thing happens all the time on men's teams, of course. But it is less common – or at least less public – on women's squads.

But all of Solo's teammates like her inside the lines, because she's the best goalkeeper the United States has.

Coach Pia Sundhage took over the team after the fallout from the loss in the Women's World Cup.

The Swede decided there wasn't going to be a lot of leftover drama when there was a gold medal to shoot for in Beijing.

Sundhage sang Bob Dylan's “The Times They Are A-Changin'” during the first team meeting. She also asked the team if it wanted to win. When the players replied affirmatively, Sundhage re-installed Solo in goal.

Solo has been there ever since. At 5-foot-9, 154 pounds, she's physical enough to win scrums in front of the goal but quick enough to dive for wide shots.

“Pia came in here and changed everything around,” Solo said. “She allowed me to be myself.”

Thoroughly depressed after the ostracism last year, Solo wondered whether she could play for the U.S. national team again.

But she and her teammates managed to get past their differences. Solo turned out to have a first name that suited her, too.

“This medal has nothing to do with whether or not healing had taken place,” Solo said, fingering the gold medal around her neck.

“Healing had to take place in my own heart to even get this far. With that said, with this gold medal, I feel on top of my world.”