The United States have long been a powerhouse in the world of women’s football, and in Hope Solo they have a thoughtful, fiery and outstanding goalkeeper in their ranks. FIFA.com caught up with the outspoken native of the state of Washington for a chat about the past and the future, professional women’s football in the USA and her hopes for the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany in 2011.
Solo, now 28 and the undisputed No1 in the USA set-up, began her footballing education as a striker, scoring bags of goals in a standout youth career and throughout secondary school. Only upon entering University, in her native Washington, did Solo make a move to the goalkeeper position. A late start indeed, but she showed immediate aptitude for the role with tremendous athleticism, size and a cultured reading of the game.
“Keepers need to be able to use their feet in the game today and playing as a striker helped me a lot in this regard,” Solo told FIFA.com. “Also it helped me just get to know my body as it was developing and to know how plays build up on the field. That all helps me now.”
After a stunning career at collegiate level, in which she was named a three-time ‘All American’ and set a record in clean sheets, Solo was drafted into the now defunct WUSA, where she played one season with the Philadelphia Charge before the league folded. “We waited six extremely long years to bring a women’s pro league back to the States,” said Solo, who lines up now for St Louis Athletica in the WPS, which brought top-notch women’s football back to the USA last year. “So many things have changed between then and now. The business plan is smarter, it’s more grassroots and we learned a lot from the mistakes we made.”
The 2009 WPS goalkeeper of the year also sees change out on the pitch as well, with the influx of foreign talent from Brazil, Germany and elsewhere pumping up the new league’s quality. “The play is much better out on the field,” said the 89-times capped US international. “It’s faster and more physical, and we’ve brought in more players from all over the world, who bring their own individual styles to the game.”
Earning her first cap with the fabled USA women’s national team in 2000, Solo became the first-choice ahead of the 2007 Women’s World Cup in China. And after conceding just two goals in three games, then-coach Greg Ryan dropped her for the semi-final against Brazil, opting to use aging veteran Briana Scurry. A much-publicised falling out followed the 4-0 loss to the South Americans, and it looked likely to threaten Solo’s spot in the squad after she openly criticised her coach’s decision. However, after Ryan’s tenure ended at the close of 2007, the whole outlook changed.
Former Swedish star and WUSA coach Pia Sundhage has, according to Solo, reinvigorated the USA since taking up the post. A gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing – in which Solo played all five games and conceded just three goals - immediately followed the disappointments of 2007. “Pia brought with her the idea that we didn’t need to rely totally on defending well and attacking through long balls,” said Solo, who also had club spells in the top-flight of Sweden and France. “Under Ryan we had a long run of games without a loss, but when Pia took over we struggled a little at the beginning because she was trying to change the way we played. It was a bold move and now we’re playing differently; we’re keeping the ball and believing in ourselves.”
Despite the changes, Solo, regarded by many as the best shot-stopper in the women’s game, knows there is still work to be done before the world finals in Germany next year. “It’s one thing to keep possession and play well against the likes of Mexico and Canada, but it will be quite another when we meet the best teams in the world. We’ll need to be brave enough to keep moving in the right direction and not fall back on old habits.”