Goalkeeper to go solo as six-month ban enforced

US goalkeeper Hope Solo has been hit with a six-month ban by the national governing body. The veteran has been capped 202 times by her country and was a member of the team that won the 2015 World Cup.
US goalkeeper Hope Solo has been hit with a six-month ban by the national governing body. The veteran has been capped 202 times by her country and was a member of the team that won the 2015 World Cup.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • US Soccer terminated the contract of goalkeeper Hope Solo on Wednesday for what it called "conduct that is counter to the organisation's principles".

The federation also suspended Solo from the women's national team for six months.

But, in ending her contract, it sent a strong signal that the 35-year-old - who has balanced on-field excellence with off-field controversy for more than a decade - might have played her last game for the United States.

The suspension was a direct result of critical comments she made after the US were eliminated by Sweden in the quarter-finals of the Rio Olympics on Aug 12.

After the loss in a penalty shoot-out, which sent the Americans home from the Games without a football medal for the first time, Solo assailed the Swedes' conservative tactics and called them "a bunch of cowards" for not going toe to toe with the more talented American team.

The comments were widely criticised as unsportsmanlike - with US midfielder Megan Rapinoe telling NBC she was "really disappointed" by her former team-mate's remarks.

This was merely the latest embarrassing episode involving Solo, who was arrested in 2014 on charges of assaulting two family members. She also served a 30-day ban last year after her husband was arrested on drink-driving charges when the pair were in a borrowed team van.

"Taking into consideration the past incidents involving Hope, as well as the private conversations we've had requiring her to conduct herself in a manner befitting a US national team member, US Soccer determined this is the appropriate disciplinary action," US Soccer's president Sunil Gulati said.

Solo has been the country's No. 1 goalkeeper since 2005 and their preferred starter in three straight World Cups and the three most recent Olympic tournaments.

She has made more than 200 appearances for the team.

While her play on the field has been exceptional at times - she was voted the outstanding goalkeeper at the past two World Cups - she has caused public relations problems for herself and US Soccer away from the field.

In 2007, she was ostracised by the national team for several months after lashing out at Greg Ryan, the coach at the time, for not starting her in a World Cup semi-final loss to Brazil.

At the Rio Olympics, she was a lightning rod for controversy, irking fans in Brazil when she posted a photo on social media of herself covered with mosquito netting and armed with insect repellent. Fans booed her mercilessly and shouted "Zika!" each time she got the ball.

In a statement released by her publicist, Solo said she was "saddened" by US Soccer's decision to terminate her contract.

"I could not be the player I am without being the person I am, even when I haven't made the best choices or said the right things," she said. "My entire career, I have only wanted the best for this team, for the players and the women's game and I will continue to pursue these causes with the same unrelenting passion with which I play the game."

Rich Nichols, the general counsel for the women's national team's players' association, called Solo's suspension "excessive, unprecedented, disproportionate, and a violation of Ms Solo's First Amendment rights".

"She was fired for making comments that a man never would have been fired for," said Nichols, who will file a grievance on her behalf.

NEW YORK TIMES, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2016, with the headline 'Goalkeeper to go solo as six-month ban enforced'. Print Edition | Subscribe