You are in the loneliest position on the soccer field. You spend agonizing stretches of time unable to do anything but wait and watch—until suddenly you are at the center of a thundering attack. Even then, your actions are tightly circumscribed: Goalies can’t win games, they can only save them.
There are few soccer players better suited to the position than the perfectly named Hope Solo. A self-described loner, she is the best player on the U.S. women’s soccer team, and its most outspoken. Solo first talked her way into the headlines in 2007, when she was inexplicably benched for a World Cup match against Brazil. The U.S. lost 4-0, its worst defeat in World Cup history. “It was the wrong decision and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that,” Solo said afterward. “I would have made those saves.” She wasn’t allowed on the team flight home.
It took her years to repair relationships with teammates. It helped that the coach who sidelined her was fired; it also helped that Solo was superb during the 2008 Olympics, where the U.S. team grabbed the gold, and in last year’s World Cup, where it won silver.
And that’s when Solo morphed from soccer player to celebrity, signing endorsement deals with Nike, Gatorade and Seiko. The spotlight made her no more diplomatic. “I was told I had too much muscle and I was too intense and I wasn’t very dainty,” she said after appearing on “Dancing With the Stars.” “Well, hello!—you cast a female professional athlete!”
Her autobiography, which will come out in August, will contain pointed criticisms of teammates and a family story straight out of Great Expectations. “The only one who really knew me was my father,” she has said. Jeffrey Solo, a Bronx-born Vietnam veteran and ex-con con man, taught her to play soccer when she was 5. A year later, he moved out of the family house, living occasionally on the streets of Seattle or in a tent in the woods on the outskirts of the city.
Jeffrey Solo reconnected with his daughter when she was starring on the University of Washington team. He came four hours early to every home game and she brought macaroni and cheese to his tent, where they talked for hours.
In 2001, their story took an even more bizarre turn when Solo’s father became a suspect in a brutal Seattle murder. With suspicion still hanging over him, he died of a heart attack, on the eve of the 2007 World Cup. Solo sprinkled her father’s ashes in the goal box before every game of the tournament.
Solo defended her father’s name for years. Finally, last September, investigators discovered evidence that Jeffrey Solo had been framed by a rogue cop who they now believe committed the murder.
Solo has always been fearless in the box, fiercely protecting her turf, knocking down all the shots fired at her, or her family. She may be the most dominant goalie in the world right now, male or female, and her team is favored to win the gold medal. But none of her victories will be easy.