Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


HOPE SOLO: YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY WRONG

The U.S. women, hoping to become the first team to win an Olympic gold medal a year after capturing a World Cup crown, were upset in the quarterfinals by Sweden in Brasilia on penalty kicks, 4-3, following a 1-1 draw.

The Americans had medaled in every Olympic tournament since women’s soccer was introduced to the Games in 1996, but with the loss they were sent home without even seeing Rio de Janeiro, host city of the XXVIII Olympiad and site of soccer’s semifinals and finals.

After the match, U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo created a storm by calling the triumphant Swedes “cowards.”  Her remarks:

“I thought that we played a courageous game.  I thought we had many opportunities on goal.  I think we showed a lot of heart.  We came back from a goal down.  I’m very proud of this team.  But I also think we played a bunch of cowards.  The best team did not win today.  I strongly believe that.  I think you saw American heart.  You saw us give everything we had today.”

Asked what she meant by “cowards,” Solo responded, “Sweden dropped off.  They didn’t want to open play.  They didn’t want to pass the ball.  They didn’t want to play great soccer.  It was a combative game, a physical game.  Exactly what they wanted and exactly what their game plan was.  They dropped into a 50.  They didn’t try and press.  They didn’t want to open the game.  And they tried to counter with long balls.  We had that style of play when Pia (Sundhage, now the Sweden coach) was our coach.  I don’t think they’re going to make it far in the tournament.  I think it was very cowardly.  But they won.  They’re moving on, and we’re going home.” [August 11]

Comment:  Hope Solo has been a polarizing figure her entire international career.  Many thought she should have been dropped from the U.S. squad following a 2014 family dust-up that led to two charges of domestic violence against Solo that have yet to be resolved.  Or after a 2012 domestic violence incident involving her ex-football player husband in which Solo was injured.  Solo also drew chants of “Zika” from the crowd at the USA’s Olympic opener after tweeting before the Olympics photos of a bed covered with bug repellant containers and another of her wearing mosquito netting.  (A P.R. faux pas in a country that earlier in her career considered Solo soccer’s reigning beauty queen.)  But now she’s gone from being a loose cannon to a disgrace.

That said, she’s absolutely correct in her assessment of what was a humbling defeat for the U.S.  The Americans did out-play Sweden, and Sweden did play a negative game, putting nine players behind the ball to neutralize world-class attackers Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan while hoping against hope (no pun intended) that it could produce a counterattack goal, which it did on the hour through Stina Blackstenius to open the scoring.  After the U.S. equalized through Morgan with 13 minutes left, Sweden played overtime aiming to hold on and get to PKs.

But if that’s cowardly, then Italy (the men) has been cowardly for about a century.  The Italians have prized defense, it’s in their DNA.  They are compact, cynically sophisticated and punishing on the tackle.  On the other end they have made an art form of the counterattack.  And all it’s gotten them is four World Cup championships.  It makes Solo’s rip job simply bizarre, because no player with more than 200 caps and 100 shutouts can possibly be that naive.  Or maybe it was just Hope being Hope yet again.

The U.S. went to Brazil ranked No. 1 in the world; Sweden was ranked sixth and obviously the underdog going into this match.  Sundhage, as the former U.S. coach, knows some of the American players better than they know themselves.  Her tactics were correct and they worked.

Sundhage, who had her own issues with Solo back when she was U.S. boss, also got in the last word regarding “cowards.”  “I don’t give a crap,” she snapped.  “I’m going to Rio, she’s going home.”



NOPE, HOPE

U.S. Olympic Team goalkeeper Hope Solo will not be disciplined for a series of tweets in which she ripped NBC color commentator Brandi Chastain for criticizing the Americans’ defense during their 3-0 rout of Colombia in a second group-round match the day before in Glasgow.

Said coach Pia Sundhage after a meeting with Solo and team captains, “We had a conversation:  If you look at the women’s national team, what do you want (people) to see?  What do you want them to hear?  And that’s where we do have a choice–as players, coaches, staff, the way we respond to certain things.”

Solo’s tweets:

o  “Lay off commentating about defending and gking until you get more educated @brandichastain the game has changed from a decade ago. #fb”

o  “Its 2 bad we can’t have commentators who better represents the team&knows more about the game @brandichastain #fb”

o  “I feel bad 4 our fans that have 2 push mute, especially bc @arlowhite is fantastic.  @brandichastain should be helping 2 grow the sport #fb”

o  “Its important 2 our fans 2 enjoy the spirit of the olympics.Its not possible when sum1 on air is saying that a player is the worst defender!”

(Note:  Arlo White is NBC’s play-by-play man.)

The response by Chastain, best known for her winning penalty kick for the U.S. at the 1999 Women’s World Cup final:  “I’m here to do my job, which is to be an honest and objective analyst at the Olympics.”  [July 29]

Comment:  We’ve been down this road before.

Solo has popped off numerous times during her 12-year, 118-match international career, most infamously after she was benched in favor of back-up Briana Scurry for the USA’s 2007 Women’s World Cup semifinal, a game won by Brazil, 4-0.  That lineup blunder by coach Greg Ryan cost him his job, but for essentially throwing Scurry under the bus, Solo was voted off the squad, temporarily, by her teammates.  She also twice touched off other controversies via Twitter, the most recent in 2010 when, while playing for WPS’ Atlanta Beat, she questioned the integrity of match officials, drawing a one-game suspension and $2,500 fine.

Of course Solo is entitled to her opinions.  And many view Solo sticking up for herself and the players in front of her in Glasgow as demonstrating the same outspoken leadership traits as those exhibited by such notable male ‘keepers as Gianluigi Buffon, Peter Schmeichel and Toni Schumacher.  (Ironically, Chastain, in a newspaper interview before the Colombia match, praised Solo for her swagger.)

But Solo would do well to realize that she’s part of something very special in American sports.  What initially made the U.S. National/Olympic Women’s Team a sensation, winning hearts and minds among fans and non-fans alike was its good humor, good sportsmanship, and positive, one-for-all, all-for-one attitude.  Winning certainly didn’t hurt, but away from the field, if there were problems, apparently they stayed behind the scenes while they got solved.

This is Solo being the aptly named Solo.  The product of a broken home whose relationship with her occasionally homeless father, a Vietnam War vet, has been well documented (the latest, in a Newsweek cover story)–evidently she will continue to be the only U.S. player to take the field with a large chip on her shoulder.  But in the last couple of days she has helped make the U.S. women’s team–that oasis in a sports world drowning in greed, ego, poor sportsmanship and, yes, reckless tweets–a little less special.



IS FC BARCELONA THE BEST CLUB EVER?

Argentine forward Lionel Messi, all of 24, became the first player to win the FIFA World Player of the Year award three times in a row as the world’s top players and coaches were honored at the 2011 FIFA Awards Gala at the Kongresshaus in Zurich.

Messi received the FIFA Ballon d’Or, beating out FC Barcelona teammate Xavi Hernandez of Spain and Portugal and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo in voting that involved national team coaches and captains and selected media members.  A two-time runner-up, he joins Ronaldo (1996, 1997, 2002) and Zinedine Zidane (1998, 2000, 2003) as the award’s only three-time winner.

Other honorees:

          o  Homare Sawa of Japan, Women’s Player of the Year.  Marta of Brazil, the winner the previous five years, finished second and the USA’s Abby Wambach third.

          o  Pep Guardiola of FC Barcelona, Men’s Coach of the Year, ahead of Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho and Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson.

          o  Norio Sasaki of Japan, Women’s Coach of the Year.  Pia Sundhage of the U.S. and Bruno Bini of France finished second and third.

          o  The FIFA/FIFPro Best XI:  Iker Casillas; Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Nemanja Vidic; Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso; Messi, Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney.

          o  Best goal award went to Brazil and Santos forward Neymar, and the Japan Football Association received FIFA’s Fair Play award for its response to the earthquake and tsunami that struck its country in March.  [January 9]

Comment:  The night may have belonged to Messi, but Guardiola deserves the brightest spotlight.

The Coach of the Year award is as close to a Club of the Year trophy as FIFA can hand out, and Guardiola has played a leading role in creating a club for the ages.

A couple of years into Guardiola’s four-year tenure at the Barcelona wheel, his team had already drawn comparisons with Ferenc Puskas’ Honved of the early 1950s, Alfredo Di Stefano’s Real Madrid of the late ’50s, Pele’s Santos of the early ’60s, Johan Cruyff’s Ajax of the early ’70s, Franz Beckenbauer’s Bayern Munich of the mid-’70s, Liverpool of the early ’80s, AC Milan of the late ’80s, and Manchester United of the late ’90s.

On a practical level, Barcelona won five trophies in 2011 and 13 of 16 possible honors since the Catalan powerhouse began to roll three years ago.  It is the current FIFA Club World Cup holder, having dismantled Santos, 4-0, in last month’s final, and the UEFA Champions League winner.   Its youth academy and scouting system are the model for ambitious clubs worldwide.  Its talent serves as the backbone of the Spanish National Team, the reigning world champion.

But on an artistic level, Barcelona is tiqui-taca, that oh-so-pleasing style that features 11 players, each of them comfortable on the ball, nine of the other field players running to provide the ball holder with myriad options, and nothing so ugly as a 40-yard thump into the box that would be described by the British as “speculative.” 

Guardiola may have had the horses–Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Cese Fabregas, David Villa, Pique, Carles Puyol, et al.–but he has held to the Barcelona way and gotten everyone on the same page.  And to the observer, what they do game by game  is so much more appealing than what they’ve done.