June 8, 2015
By Michael Lewis
Hope Solo makes all the important stops, gets all the important superlatives as well
WINNIPEG, Canada -- From the opening kickoff to the final whistle, Hope Solo was fabulous, fantastic and unbelievable.
In other words, she played her typical game in goal for the U.S. women's national team.
On a night in which the Americans were off their game, Solo turned out to be at the top of hers in a 3-1 Group D win over Australia in the Women's World Cup opener for both teams Monday night.
Solo was out of this World Cup with her performance, keeping the USA in the game when the team struggled early on and making sure the Aussies weren't going to get any closer down the stretch.
"She was tremendous," USA head coach Jill Ellis said.
"Hope saved our rear ends a few times literally," USA captain and striker Abby Wambach said. "Some world-class goals she just hand-picked away. Just mentality-wise it was just a killer for them.”
With the game barely five minutes old, Solo made her first outstanding save when she got her fingertips on Emily Van Egmond's close-range shot and the ball ricocheted off the crossbar.
"I actually thought it was going to hit my gloves and still hit the net," Solo said. "I was more relieved than anything."
The save might have given her teammates a lift, but not Solo.
“It's hard to get lifted as a goalkeeper because you're waiting for the next shot, the next play,” she said. “I have to remain level the entire time.”
She needed to be, with the way the Americans played early on, allowing the Aussies to take the game to them.
"I was mentally prepared for a tough first half," Solo said. "Historically it takes us some time to get our feet under us and really getting rolling and to kind of find our groove. There's going to be jitters. We have young players. Even without young players, we tend to take some time to find our groove. I expected that. I expected to weather the storm and eventually play a little bit more comfortable in the second half."
In case you were wondering if Solo was distracted by a new news report of a domestic violence case she has been involved in, then guess again.
Asked if she remained focused, Solo replied, "I was terrifically focused."
There's a reason for that.
"She's the best goalkeeper in the world," coach Jill Ellis said. "I’ve said this for the last two or three months. She's been really sharp in training, played well in games. She's had laser focus and I thought that was on display. A game changer again."
Next up for the USA is Sweden, same venue on Friday.
"It's going to be tough," Solo said. "Pia Sundhage is a tactician. She is one of the best coaches that I ever played for. She knows the U.S. team quite well. We have to come out with a sense of confidence on the ball. We didn't play through the midfield, not just offensively, but defensively we broke down in the midfield. We have to tighten up gaps, we have to compress the field a little bit more and move the ball, move the ball with pace and rhythm and get them out of shape. Hopefully, our set pieces are better defensively."
The Americans cannot afford another poor start as they did against Australia.
"Obviously, it's not good enough, but it's not where you start, it's where you finish," Solo said. "So as long as we steadily climb, I think we'll be just fine. The teams in our group are very good, not just Sweden. Nigeria as well. They put on a show today against Sweden. It's going to be a tough group and we're going to have climb with each game."