Over recent years, Hope Solo has become one of the most renowned and recognisable figures in women's football. Widely considered to the finest female goalkeeper of her generation, the 31-year-old has combined celebrity status off the field with success on it, as an influential member of USA's all-conquering national team.
Solo's reputation was further enhanced during 2012, which proved to be a year to remember with the US taking gold at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament. In this interview, she speaks to FIFA.com about the differences between that gold medal-winning team and the side that finished second a year beforeat the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup Germany™. Solo also gave us her thoughts on her continual development as a goalkeeper and the impact former coach Pia Sundhage has had on her career.
FIFA.com: In our last interview you said that 2012 would be all about winning the gold medal. You must be very proud about what you and the US team achieved.
Hope Solo: That was our ultimate goal for 2012. It is not hard to have that goal. As an athlete or a football player there are only two tournaments: the World Cup and the Olympics. In 2011 we didn't win the World Cup, so 2012 was all about coming back, rebuilding our team and making sure that we stood on top of that podium. And that's what we did.
What do you think was special about the US Olympic team?
Our 2011 World Cup team was incredibly special and the 2012 Olympic team was made up of pretty much the same players. The difference was that we learned so much in that year. Above all, we learned how to finish a game. We obviously played the final against Japan for the second time and this time we came out on top because we learned how to manage the game. In 2011, we felt like we beat ourselves. We had the game, we were ahead numerous times throughout the game and for whatever reason we could not close it out. But from that, we learned how to manage the game and we won’t let it happen again, so we were able to come out on top against the same team a year later.
A lot of people will remember your Olympic campaign for the dramatic semi-final win against Canada. What is your favourite memory of the competition?
It was a strange tournament for a goalkeeper. I wasn’t asked to make many plays until the final. I felt that, as a veteran player on the team, I really had to sit back and wait for the moment to come to me; wait for the game to ask me to make a difference. Personally, I wasn’t really able to make a difference to help our team until the final against Japan. It was a test of my patience as a goalkeeper, of my maturity as a goalkeeper, to realise that you can’t make an impact every single game. I think the ultimate moment as a team was when the final whistle blew. It was an accumulation of my life’s work, of our team’s work and all the people in the stands supporting us. The whistle blows and there is no going back. Some of my team-mates were instantly in tears, but I smiled for probably a month straight! Literally, my mouth was tired from smiling. It was the ultimate joy.
Pia Sundhage left the US team at the end of 2012. What influence did she have on your career and how important was she for your personal development?
Pia was a true leader when she came in and took over our team. Our team was in a shambles, we had different opinions, different goals and we played different styles. She came in and she brought us together. She was pretty much the first coach I played for that really knew how to bring a team together and make them a true team. One of the hardest things for a coach to do is to manage personalities. A lot of coaches know tactics; they know how to put on training sessions. But to come in and have big personalities like Abby Wambach myself and bring all of them together is difficult. Pia came in and said: ‘Everybody has differences. We are going to put those aside and we are going to have one goal. It doesn’t matter what you do off the field, but on the field we come together and we are going to win tournaments and we win medals.' We listened to her.
Tell us about your first meeting with Pia. We heard she sung a song in the locker room?
When Pia doesn’t have words, she likes to sing and play the guitar (laughs). That is just what she does.
How has goalkeeping in women’s football developed over recent years in your opinion?
Goalkeeping has changed in men’s football as well. As the game grows it needs continuing to change. Everybody knows that a goalkeeper now has to have the ability to play with his or her feet. They have to have confidence with the ball because the defenders need to have the option of passing the ball back. Personally speaking, our team expects me to start the attack. It is not just defending the goal and shot-stopping anymore. What we are really lacking in the female game, but which we continue to improve upon year by year, is our ability to come for balls in the air, especially amid a crowd of players. It requires a lot of strength, but we are getting there. In the last couple tournaments you could see the growth in women’s goalkeeping. I am proud to say that coming out for crosses and balls in the air is one of my strong points.
Do you sometimes look at male goalkeepers to see how they react in certain situations?
It’s all about being a student of the game. Watching football, watching international football - it is all the same. Goalkeeping and football, it is all the same. You have tactics, you have different styles of play but just because I am a female goalkeeper doesn’t mean that I only watch male goalkeepers. It means that you can watch goalkeeping as a whole and learn different bits and implement them into your own game.
Who in your opinion is the best male goalkeeper?
I would say (Iker) Casillas. His ability with the ball at his feet is second to none.
What advice would you give a young girl who wants to follow your footsteps and live her goals?
I think it is a beautiful thing for a young girl to say: 'I want to live my goal!' It is all about continuing to reach for your dreams. No matter what challenges or obstacles you are faced with, it is important to stay true to what you want to do. Not what your parents want to do, not the pressure from the outside world, but truly what you want to do in your own heart.
What are you looking forward in 2013?
It is kind of a slow year for our US team. I am going to make the most of that and see what Tom Sermanni has to offer to our team. Hopefully we are going to find new young players to help make this team even better and go for the World Cup trophy in 2015.