When Hope Solo ascended the podium to receive her individual awards for her performances at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ in Frankfurt last July, there was more than one reason why the 109-time USA international was struggling to fight back the tears.
On the one hand the American was overjoyed to be collecting both the adidas Golden Glove as the tournament’s best goalkeeper and the Bronze Ball as the third best player. On the other, the USA players had just lost one of the biggest games of their lives, ruining a childhood dream for the world-class shot-stopper.
Seven months after that penalty shoot-out defeat against Japan in the Final of Germany 2011, the 30-year-old is smiling once again and looking forward to the year ahead with enthusiasm.
As first choice between the sticks with her national team for the past seven years, Solo had already experienced numerous setbacks before last summer’s disappointment. At the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2007 she was dropped to the bench ahead of the semi-final match against Brazil and only recalled to the squad by Pia Sundhage in early 2008. She then underwent major shoulder surgery in 2010 which required nine arduous months of rehabilitation.
No pain, no gain
"I’ve been through a lot of things in my personal and family life,” Solo revealed to FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “That turned me into a fighter. I always strive to be the best I possibly can. I think it’s my personality to overcome things, learn from them and become stronger, both personally and professionally. To be honest, I welcome those hardships. I don’t fear them. I face them head-on and try to become a better person.”
Anyone who watched Solo’s outstanding performances at Germany 2011 would never have guessed she was still suffering from the after-effects of her shoulder operation throughout the tournament. “I had no business being on the field at the World Cup really,” admitted the 30-year-old. “I was in a lot of pain. I took a lot of medicine which helped me get through day-to-day training.”
“Our training camp last December was a key point for me. Fifteen months after my operation [in September 2010] I began with my preparations for the Olympic Games. I’m learning to use my shoulder in a different way. No more drugs, less pain. My movements are different now. It’s about getting to know my body again in the hope of being in a stronger position heading into the Olympics than I was for the World Cup.”
Solo’s impressive displays in qualifying for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament 2012 in London suggest she is well on her way to a complete recovery. The Stars and Stripes stormed through Group B of the preliminary competition in Vancouver, topping the section with a goal difference of 31:0 before keeping further clean sheets in the semi-final and final against Mexico and hosts Canada respectively.
New system, former strength
Yet in spite of the team’s consistently good form, Solo still believes USA have a long way to go in their quest for success. "Our new system is very attack-minded, but we still have some holes in our defence. That was evident at the World Cup in the summer. If we really want to make it to the final of the Olympics, we need to focus on the one thing we’ve always been renowned for: a solid defence. We’ve stepped up the attacking side of our game, but we need to ensure we remain among the best defensive teams in the world too.”
"I’ve been on the team for some time now and been through many ups and downs. There are lots of different characters in the squad and we’ve experienced a lot together. Just look at the 2007 World Cup – it was a disaster for us, but then Pia Sundhage came in and helped us to embrace all the different personalities. There are a number of leaders in our team. Abby [Wambach] is one of them, as is Christie Rampone and myself. I think we’re in a healthy state in terms of the dynamic of the team.”
Strokes of fate, career setbacks and serious injuries are hardly the best recipe for a long and prosperous career in professional sport, but the likeable goalkeeper prides herself on never giving up in pursuit of her dreams. "I’ve always said that I want to win the Olympic gold and the World Cup trophy. I’ve yet to win the World Cup, but I intend to compete again in Canada in 2015.”
Of course, before she begins preparing for the seventh edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Solo is focusing fully on adding to the Olympic gold she won at Beijing 2008: "London 2012 is all about winning a medal. Not just any medal, the gold medal."