By CAITLIN MURRAY
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Hope Solo is the best female goalkeeper the United States has ever produced. At least, it is easy to argue that is the case, especially after last week.
Solo broke the U.S. Women’s National Team shutout record, surpassing the previous record of 72 career shutouts in 19 fewer games than goalkeeper Briana Scurry needed. It added some tangible proof to the long-held perception that she is the best goalkeeper to emerge from the U.S. women’s program.
There wasn’t much time spent celebrating her accomplishment because, shortly after Solo broke the mark, she became the target for criticism. The fallout from multiple domestic violence cases involving NFL players soon led to a wave of questions about Solo and why she was being allowed to play for the U.S. considering she was due to stand trial in November for allegedly assaulting her sister and 17-year-old nephew.
Solo’s arrest on June 21 barely registered a ripple, but the Ray Rice scandal and Adrian Peterson’s child abuse charges stirred up a firestorm of criticism aimed at U.S. Soccer for allowing Solo to continue playing before her trial.
In an interview with SBI last week, before the wave of criticism and calls for her to not be allowed to play before her trial, Solo cautioned against passing judgment on her situation without knowing the factual details of her case.
“Nobody knows the truth, nobody knows the facts, people make assumptions,” Solo told SBI last Wednesday. “But at the end of the day I know I can look at myself in the mirror and be proud of the choices I’ve made, the decisions I’ve made and my commitment to this team.
“At the end of the day, the people who really know me are the people that I have to face — and I can face them with loyalty and with a smile. Distractions aside, my one and only focus is the World Cup.”
When the U.S. women head to Canada for the Women’s World Cup next summer, Solo is expected to be there. The national team certainly has capable backup goalkeepers, but the dropoff from Solo to her backups is considerable. If the Americans want to win the World Cup for the first time since 1999, they will need Solo in top form.
They will begin their qualifying campaign on Oct. 15. Little more than a week after they wrap up, Solo will go on trial for two counts of misdemeanor domestic violence on Nov. 4. She could face up to six months in jail.
If convicted, Solo’s sentence could see her incarcerated for the months leading up to the World Cup, and could cost Solo her place on the U.S. team. Despite that uncertain future, Solo is working hard to stay focused on playing and being in Canada for the World Cup next summer.
“My life has been filled with distractions and the one thing that always kept me sane and focused was my competitiveness on the soccer field, my desire and my drive to win,” Solo said when asked about staying focused on soccer. “I still have so much love for the game. I still have so much desire to win that World Cup trophy. Everything else is just chatter, to be honest — it really is.”
In the wake of Solo’s arrest, questions were raised about whether she would be forced to stop playing while she dealt with criminal charges. After sitting out one match around the time of the arrest, Solo was then benched for missing that match. She then went on to finish her season with Seattle Reign FC. Her team enjoyed a dominating regular season in the National Women’s Soccer League, but suffered a stunning loss to FC Kansas City in the final.
Solo has also played in three U.S. women’s matches during that time. The second of those matches, on Sept. 13, saw her set the team’s career shutout record. Last Thursday, Solo wore the captain’s armband in a 4-0 win against Mexico.
The context of her continuing to play changed seemingly overnight, as a groundswell of criticism erupted in the wake of Ray Rice’s suspension for assaulting his now-wife, an assault captured by security video leaked two weeks ago. Shortly after that incident, and Adrian Peterson’s arraignment on child abuse charges, attention turned to Solo and the fact she had been allowed to play while facing her own domestic violence case.
The U.S. Soccer Federation had avoided the topic in the wake of Solo’s arrest, and continued to promote her accomplishments even as a trial loomed in her future. That changed on Monday, when U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati issued a formal statement Monday reaffirming that U.S. Soccer was behind Solo, and would not change that position before her November trial.
“U.S. Soccer takes the issue of domestic violence very seriously. From the beginning, we considered the information available and have taken a deliberate and thoughtful approach regarding Hope Solo’s status with the national team,” Gulati’s statement said. “Based on that information, U.S. Soccer stands by our decision to allow her to participate with the team as the legal process unfolds. If new information becomes available we will carefully consider it.”
For now, Solo will continue to play with the U.S. women through World Cup qualifying, right up until her trial. How that trial goes will ultimately determine whether she spends the first half of 2015 playing soccer or serving jail time.