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July 27, 2012
Solo different player, person than in 2007

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor

Hope Solo feels like she is at her peak heading into the 2012 Olympic tournament.
Hope Solo feels like she is at her peak heading into the 2012 Olympic tournament.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
What with all the off-field distractions, Dancing with the Stars, a rebuke from the USADA after a drug test, a shoulder injury, posing in the nude for magazines, writing a biography, it’s a wonder Hope Solo has any time for her primary job, which is keeping goal for the U.S. Women’s National Team.

But that is just a part of the 30-year-old’s life.

“All my life, since the time I was little, has been a long distraction,” said Solo. “At least that is the way some people want to perceive it. But for me, it’s given me a lot of strength, it’s given me a lot of fortitude, a lot of challenges that have given me the opportunity to really cut out those outside distractions.

“I’ve been able to do that and I think from the time I was little all of my freedom and happiness, all my fight came from playing the game that I love, and that’s what allowed me to be the best at what I do and allowed me to get as far as I gotten. I’m grateful for those challenges I’ve had off the field.”

The soccer side of Solo’s story is well known. At the 2007 World Cup, she was benched in favor of Briana Scurry. The veteran goalkeeper gave up two soft goals, and Solo blamed coach Greg Ryan and her teammate for the loss. She was kicked off the team, sent home early, and had to work her way back into the good graces of her team and their new coach, who was willing to start with a fresh slate.

“She has more experience than she had in 2008, and she has gone through ups and downs because of injuries so forth,” said U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage, who took over the team shortly after the World Cup fiasco. Sundhage says Solo has developed into a better goalkeeper in the last four years, despite shoulder surgery that threatened to end her career.

“I really appreciate the game with her feet that will be very important in this tournament. Right now she is in a good place and it will be important that she plays well,” said Sundhage.
Solo says as much as she enjoys a lot of the so-called off-field distractions, she realizes the better things in her life are because of soccer.

“This is what my life is all about. This is where my heart is, and this is where my passion lies,” she said. “All the other nonsense is all the bells and whistles, but it doesn’t make me who I am. It’s not a part of my lifestyle and it doesn’t breed happiness. Getting back here in an environment like this, and I’m talking about the main stage, a big tournament where you feel the nerves, the positive energy, you feel the tension that can rise and now we’re five games out from that big game. That’s what I live for and that’s what I know and I love, so of course it feels good to be back, but to be honest I never really left.”

Solo says the shoulder injury, which she had surgery on before last year’s Women’s World Cup, caused some disruptions, but also changed her game, because of the need to rehab from it and strengthen it.

“My entire focus was having the confidence to land on my shoulder over and over again, having the confidence to carry the ball with one arm, throw the ball, trying to gain strength back into my shoulder but not overdo it. All of my focus was geared to my upper body and my shoulder, and everyone knows my strengths are my kicking, my distribution, my feet, and to be honest the last year I was probably the worst I had ever been with my feet. I didn’t have the time to put into it because of all the time I put into rehab with my shoulder.”

Since the World Cup, an event that thrust her and many of her teammates into the limelight not only because of their run-up to the championship game -- first making an epic comeback, despite playing with only ten men for nearly an hour, to tie Brazil on Wambach’s 122nd minute goal and win in penalty kicks, to again coming back a few days later to beat France 3-1 in the semis, all the while mesmerizing the United States and pulling in record TV numbers -- Solo has been working on getting her game back to where it once was.

“As an athlete we evolve as years go by, and I have different focuses as years go by,” Solo said “In last year’s World Cup I was coming from severe shoulder surgery and it took a lot more to get back than people realize.

“For the last year after the World Cup, I feel like myself again before my shoulder surgery, and I wasn’t quite myself in the last World Cup,” she said “Right now I am starting to feel well-rounded again. I’ve gotten my foot skills back, I’ve gotten my distribution back and my shoulder feels great. I’m feeling real good right now because I’m getting my footwork back and that’s what I’m known for.”

Her teammates, who have accepted her back into the fold after the fiasco in China five years ago, see the change in the now-veteran goalkeeper, who is generally acknowledged as the best in the world.

"She is right on right now, you know. Her body’s feeling good, she’s mentally in a good place, and Pia said her footwork is faster than ever,” said defender and team captain Christie Rampone.” I think she’s really settled in the last month and a half and back to her peak form, focused and ready to go.”
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