Hope Solo, Women’s Soccer and Winning the World Cup

OK. Since Mitch McConnell has entered the debt ceiling fray (note to all Americans: we’re sunk), I’m going to spend a good portion of my day fretting about other matters. And while both sides Inside the Beltway continue to kick the can on spending, jobs and so on, I’m going to keep my eyes on some real footballers: the U.S. women’s soccer team.

They play France today at noon in the semifinals of the World Cup. Japan takes the pitch against Sweden immediately following. And as best I can tell both matches will be on ESPN.

I enjoy watching soccer, and the USA victory over Brazil Sunday should kind of blow out of the water the claim that soccer doesn’t have enough action or excitement to suit American sports fans. C’mon. The USA tied the score with about two seconds left — and then won in a shootout. Compared to that, baseball’s All-Star Game was an exercise in watching paint dry.

And even if you prefer to watch snooker or women’s beach volleyball, how can you not cheer for the USA goalie, Hope Solo? Here’s from the NYT, “U.S. Goalkeeper Made Quite a Comeback of Her Own“:

They would joke about it later, but the moment grew too chaotic for Hope Solo. She had to get away. This time, she left on her own, not at the insistence of others.

The Women’s World Cup quarterfinals had reached penalty kicks Sunday after a stunning overtime comeback by the United States against Brazil. In a team huddle, forward Abby Wambach screamed at her teammates to relax.

“Look who’s talking,” midfielder Carli Lloyd said, according to Solo, and the other players laughed edgily. Who could calm down with someone yelling at them?

A few players started punching Solo, the goalkeeper. These were fists of encouragement, meant to rouse and motivate her. But Solo felt her emotions rising when she needed to feel calm. So she walked away, strolled to the other side of the field in Dresden and leaned on the advertising boards.

“We couldn’t find her,” Christie Rampone, the team captain, said.

Solo looked into the stands and found her mother, brother and sister. She spotted her aunt and uncle. She thought briefly about the 2007 World Cup, about how she wanted to enjoy this moment because that other moment had been so unpleasant.

Her father had died shortly before that World Cup. He had been Solo’s biggest supporter and a bigger enigma, a man who lived in a tent, homeless, who kept changing his name and died before everything could be explained.

When the 2007 World Cup started, Solo was still grieving. Then she was benched by Coach Greg Ryan for a semifinal match against Brazil. The United States lost, 4-0, with Briana Scurry in goal. Afterward, Solo said that she could have saved the shots that ended up in the net. Her words scattered beyond their aim.

Solo’s teammates took her remarks as a criticism of Scurry, not just Ryan. She was banished from the third-place game and the team flight home from China, ostracized by the women who had played with her and been her friends.

So on Sunday, as she awaited the penalty-kick shootout, Solo took in the crowd. She let the noise wash over her. The United States had been a player down for the final 25 minutes of regulation and all 30 minutes of overtime but kept its resolve and tied the score. And now Solo felt a kind of release. If others were tense, she was relaxed.

“I just wanted to enjoy this moment because in 2007, I wasn’t able to do that,” she said. “I was at peace, clear-headed, right where I needed to be.”

When Daiane, the third Brazilian shooter, set up for her penalty kick, Solo made her wait. She moved unhurriedly in the goal mouth, stalling, trying to spot something that would betray Daiane’s intent. Finally, she did. The way Daiane ran toward the ball, the arc of her approach, was the giveaway. She was behind the ball and her hips opened, and the ball could go in only one direction. Solo dived to her right and punched the ball away, and the Americans soon advanced to the semifinals to face France here Wednesday.

I know that many who read these posts are at work, busily monitoring Facebook and Twitter and pulling recipes from the Food Network. But if you have the opportunity to watch some or all of the matches, go for it. Your boss won’t notice. Trust me on that.

And yeah, I know. While the women are world-class athletes no matter how you slice it, the critique is that this still doesn’t quite add up to the men’s game. Well, my perspective is that there is a difference. The USA women, unlike the men, have a history of finishing matches that really mean something at least one goal ahead.

Just sayin’.

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