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Hope Solo suspension shines light on USWNT’s backup goalkeeper inexperience

Hope Solo by Geoff Burke USA TODAYPhoto by Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports


It seemed that Plan A was always for Hope Solo to be starting in goal for the U.S. Women’s National Team.

The USWNT played 24 matches in 2014. Solo started in 21 of them. She voluntarily missed one in June for what U.S. Soccer called a “family commitment” and was arrested for allegedly assaulting two family members the following night.

As Solo went through her legal troubles – which could’ve resulted in jail time and force her to miss this summer’s World Cup – coach Jill Ellis started No. 2 goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris just once when Solo was available. It was at World Cup qualifying against Haiti, a low-tier team that recorded a single shot against the U.S. in 90 minutes, which wasn’t even on goal.

Solo’s criminal case was later dismissed but it appeared unlikely to result in a conviction from the start. The alleged victims had reportedly changed their stories and were uncooperative. If those around Solo and the USWNT thought she would be around for the long haul, to Canada 2015 and beyond, they weren’t alone.

“When I decide to walk away, it will be my decision and it will be because I’m not having fun anymore,” Solo told SBI before World Cup qualifying when asked if she planned to retire after Canada 2015. “Do I expect to go another cycle after this cycle? Absolutely, if that’s what I set out to do and if I’m fully committed 110 percent.”

“I’m tired of all these questions about, is this my last cycle? I told Jill, I was like, ‘Jill, I’ll be around. You’re going to have to kick me out of this team before I leave.’ ”

The situation surrounding Solo has changed in the past week, though.

Amid calls for Solo to be benched in the fall, U.S. Soccer called for the legal process to play out before taking action. But just one week after assault charges against her were dismissed, she apparently forced U.S. Soccer’s hand and Ellis suspended her for 30 days.

While in residency with the team for a training camp, a reportedly intoxicated Solo allowed her husband, ex-NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens, to drive a team van after drinking and he was arrested for DUI.

Her suspension means she will miss the team’s first two matches of the year. Those matches next month are both against strong World Cup opponents: France and England.

Ellis is now forced to give her backup goalkeepers another look as the specter that 33-year-old Solo could somehow miss the World Cup lingers – something the team surely hoped would vanish once Solo’s assault case was closed.


Harris is the team’s No. 2 goalkeeper, according to Ellis. She has just four caps with the USWNT.

Club experience has been key for Harris – that is where she moved up the USWNT goalkeeper ranks, bypassing Nicole Barnhart, who had once been the team’s steady No. 2. Harris played in the UEFA Champions League but later returned to the U.S. Soccer-backed National Women’s Soccer League, something USWNT players did en masse, leading to speculation they felt pressured to come stateside.

“When I’m with my club team is my time to try things out and get my time to play in games and get experience,” Harris told SBI before World Cup qualifying. “That’s what I’ve been doing.”

That will be harder in 2015, though. As first reported by SBI, USWNT players are expected to miss large chunks of the NWSL season to prepare for the 2015 World Cup. Harris, 29, plays for the Washington Spirit.

Harris’ style in goal is vocal and brazen, which lends itself to making both spectacular saves and big blunders alike. Her ability and experience, however, seem to be in the sweet spot – she has room for growth but is ready to go in goal for the Americans now.


Also in line is Barnhart, 33, who has more than 50 caps with the USWNT since 2004. A steady and conservative presence in net, Barnhart is reliable in her decisions, but she lacks the explosiveness of Solo and Harris in net. She also has been nagged by injuries in the last year, even as she led FC Kansas City in the NWSL to the postseason in back-to-back years.

If healthy, Barnhart could be a good short-term option for her experience, but she appears to have fallen out of favor with the USWNT coaching staff. Although she was the clear No. 2 behind Solo through 2012, by the following year, now-retired goalkeeper Jill Loyden had moved ahead.

Barnhart hasn’t featured for the USWNT in 15 months and is likely No. 3 behind Harris.


The wildcard is 26-year-old Alyssa Naeher. She shows loads of potential and good instincts, but has a single cap with the USWNT. It was against a poor Argentina side last month in a 7-0 blowout where Argentina had one shot the entire match.

Her club record with the Boston Breakers in NWSL is only slightly helpful in understanding her value. While she did make plenty of impressive saves and kept her team in games last year, she also had her share of troubles and the league’s worst goals against average. The Breakers, however, arguably had the worst back line in the league and suffered all over the field, losing 16 in 24 games.

Naeher is the USWNT’s likely No. 4 and the least likely to make the World Cup roster.

For Ellis, the prospect of Solo being unavailable for this summer’s World Cup clearly leaves her no great options. Less than six months from the start of the tournament, it’s too late to bring in anyone new. She will have to work with what she has, which is a group of good goalkeepers who have not been primed for Canada.

Only time will tell if it was a mistake to hand start after start to Solo, who has more than 150 caps with the USWNT.

“At the end of the day, there’s things I can control and there’s things I can’t control,” Harris said, back when she wasn’t seeing USWNT playing time. “The coaches pick the teams, the coaches pick the playing times. All I can do is make their decision as hard as possible.”

Difficult decisions still lie ahead, it seems.


  1. Whatever personal character flaws, etc. Solo has demonstrated, the ongoing spin that her behavior has put the U.S. in the situation of having only “inexperienced” keepers going into high-profile friendlies leading to the WC focuses on the TMZ-style sensational, rather than management of the USWNT.
    The person most responsible for the international inexperience of Harris and Naeher is not Hope Solo, but Jill Ellis. As others have pointed out, Solo (and other veterans) almost never left the pitch in 2014, so other players whom we might very well need in 2015 sat and watched. I never bought the rationale that we were developing “on-field chemistry” in 2014; really — how important is that quality one year away from a tournament, especially when we have young players who need only experience to develop? I think “chemistry” jas just been a smokescreen for continuing the Victory Tour.
    There may be time for Rapinoe to heal before summer, but what if another key veteran, especially in the MF, goes down in April or May? I give her mucho credit from bringing back Chalupny, but in general Ellis has done so little to develop alternatives, again especially in the MF
    Rapinoe and Solo are already out for the next two matches. I would be totally in favor of leaving Wambach, Lloyd, and Rampone at home for the European matches and giving new players some exposure and experience. Win the Algarve?! The most important thing about those matches is not the scoreboard or the ballyhooed “chemistry,” but that we are a deeper, more complete team as spring approaches summer.

    • Totally agree with you. We will need the likes of Julie Johnston, Morgan Brian, Crystal Dunn and Whitney Engen on the quick turnaround on artificial turf. Ellis is crazy to think her veterans can play 90 minutes, every game. Heaven forbid, what if Lloyd gets hurt?

      I’m happy they brought Chalupny back, but dismayed it wasn’t to play a DM position. I think Kling has the LB position down and O’Hara is a backup. No reason to use Chalupny there when she’s so valuable as a DM.

      I just don’t understand Ellis’ decisions at all, really. She must feel intense pressure to play Wambach and Rampone, even if they play us out of the World Cup.

  2. People keep talking about inexperience for the backups (senior international inexperience) as if it is some oddity. Looking at the men’s national teams, the backups rarely have that much more experience either. Manuel Neuer became the #1 GK in the 2010 WC (of course through some extenuating circumstances) and had only 2 international starts at the time. One of many examples. The fact that Rimando, arguably the #3 in the USMNT totem pole right now has 16 caps is more a rarity than the rule in that the backups get a lot of games. De Gea who looks to be taking over Spain has like 2-3 caps. Obviously, the men have extensive club experience and youth experience to draw on, but so do the women.
    Looking at the three potential backups right now, I am not all that worried, especially considering that the GK position is not the one the team should be worrying about now. Sure having Solo between the posts is more of an assurance, but the team is not performing as well as they should for the roster they have and that’s with or without Solo

    • Do you think the club situations between the men and the women is really he same? For men, their club job is their most important job. Not so for the women to the point where Ellis is pulling them all out of their clubs to go into residency before the WWC. As the article mentions, U.S. WNT players will barely have a club season this year

      Also if Solo was going on trial and could go to jail, why not cap a backup? What would be the harm in that? Any goalkeeper will tell you practice can never replicate a game situation.

      They just better hope Solo gets her act together and uses her 30 days wisely

      • fair enough. It is a longer (I wouldn’t know if it is more intense though) club season for the men, but the point is that the women do have a competitive club season as well, even if not as extensive. Harris played in the Champions league with the team that went on to the finals for example. That’s very good experience. But you are right that no match situation will replicate a WC knockout game, but every player has to start somewhere. Some of the men #2 had some really “giveaway” first or second caps like a month before the WC in Brazil so they really just tend to be ignored until they are needed.

        And the backups (most likely Harris) will get some caps in the coming fixtures, although I do agree that it probably wasn’t in the plans hadn’t Solo landed in hot waters.

    • However I do agree the team has bigger fish to fry than the GK slot. The midfield looks awful right now and our finishing is unbearable to watch. No arguement there LOL

  3. This is less about Solo and more about the Jill Ellis management style. Ellis knew all Fall that Solo could b lost to the team if the DV case went against her. How did Ellis prepare? By starting Solo in 10 of the 12 matches, keeping her number one happy and getting little or no experience for her back ups. In those 12 they only faced two teams who were a real threat, Switzerland and Brazil, leaving Ellis 9 risk free matches to give needed game experience to her GKs. Instead she bungled this. Looking back on this and her inexplicable coaching performance in Brazil, I really have to wonder how she got this job.

    • World Cup Qualifying matches are not risk free, and shouldn’t be treated that way. The other keepers still should have gotten more minutes in friendlies though, just in case the not so unthinkable happens and Solo can’t play for whatever reason in the World Cup.

    • I was thinking that as well But i didnt pay enough attention to friendlies to be sure.

      Totally different from the mens team where if Howard goes down we knew our 3rd string was more than able to cover.

      So.e of that is just pure luck… but Rimando got to play to play anyway.

  4. great article breaking down a tricky situation.

    when the news came out I was certain Solo’s #1 spot should be in question, but I couldn’t think of a time another keeper stood out on this team.

    thankfully we have the NWSL!

  5. It’s funny how MLS and the USMNT are known for having such well behaved squeaky clean American guys. This is a major advantage over the NFL, NBA, MLB etc. Yet it’s a woman who US soccer has to worry about embarrassing the whole program.

    • Daniel Paladini beat his fiance and tortured her by pouring bleach all over her head and face.
      John Harkes cheated on Eric Wynalda’s wife before the ’02 World Cup.
      And then there’s Eddie Johnson.

      I get what you’re saying. Solo is more high profile, but it’s both genders aren’t squeaky clean, and no sportsman or sportswoman is perfect.

      • Not that it really matters, but the Harkes/Wynalda thing was before the 98 World Cup.

        It is telling that one of the examples you give to showcase how it happens on both sides, comes from a 17 year old story. =P

      • That’s right, France ’98 was a disaster and ’02 Korea/Japan was amazing.

        The Paladini story was roughly 3 weeks ago. The hot mess of Eddie Johnson is recent history. I could also add Josh Saunders (rehab) and Edson Buddle who all had DUIs recently. There’s a reason why MLS has a substance abuse treatment program.

      • Don’t forget Charlie Davies; not only his career derailing injuries but also driving without a license in France if I recall correctly. Quite possibly other things too assuming most people don’t get caught for everything they do wrong off the field.

      • Charlie was a passenger in that accident and in the rear seat. Bad judgement being in that car was his biggest crime

        I think the USWNT needs to move past Hope Solo. If we’re weak at GK its only because every coach is scared to sit her down. It’s not like shes often called upon to do anything great and Im sure there are others that can stand in there. If I was coach, Solo and Wambach would be on the path to retirement now

      • Good points Nico. Though your most relevant example is Paladini. MLS then ended his career. Solo will be allowed to continue to embarrass.
        Yes it is true Harkes was a d bag 17 years ago.
        Yes EJ is a jerk and a baby. But I don’t think he’s ever been arrested. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

        Given Solo’s high profile she is now the all time biggest embarrassment to the US program.

      • You may be right (though I’m sure some would disagree)… but look on the bright side– if this is our all-time biggest embarrassment, I’d have to say the overall conduct of our players is pretty darn good compared to most any other country.

        Here’s hoping we keep it that way.

  6. Solo needs to get her life together before either she or her husband tragically meet their demise.

    Stevens has an extensive history/problem already and Solo seems to be a willing participant. Both Stevens and Solo are train wrecks on their own but combined I fear something more substantial will happen to them or an innocent victim. For me, drunk driving is right up there with criminal activities due to the unnecessary harm you’re putting others potentially in.

  7. Doing the right thing is not always easy but it’s always right.
    Who’s the backup shouldn’t even be considered when acting with integrity.
    Sometimes it seems like a lot to ask.

  8. You have to question why, even if Hope Solo was straight as an arrow, why the back-ups and futures of the team haven’t gotten more experience. Seems really terribly managed considering the various situations where you might need to play someone other than Hope Solo in a meaningful game.

    • Yeah, particularly now that you know you have this issue of potential drunken stupidity, good sense is to inform yourself of your options and groom them just in case. The ban forces it but they should have been keeping the door open after the initial antics.

      And then I have just never been a fan of all eggs in one basket. Many managers don’t like to sub or rotate backs and keepers much but then if someone gets hurt you have a replacement who is not ready for prime time. Particularly in international play where you have many games that don’t count you have plenty of room to test options, and should do so.

  9. Very good piece, Caitlin. I think this is unfortunately a big and unspoken piece of the problem. Even if Hope straightens things out and finds her way (as we all hope she does)…. the question of a backup and hopefully successor remains a question mark at the moment.

    Personally, I am still utterly baffled at the parade of clownlike judgement that led to a blotto Jerramy Stevens somehow driving the US team at all. I mean… JESUS! US soccer seems content to pin the blame on Hope Solo for handing the keys to Prince Charming— but really…. why on earth are these volitile people, who just dodged a legal bullet mere days earlier, cruising Manhattan Beach in the team van at all? These people are millionaires (at least, they probably still are….) Can’t they rent a car? Take a a taxi? Uber? What on earth is going on here?

    • That’s just the off the field stuff. It seems as if the back up keeper has been neglected game time as well. JK has always found time for even Rimando to get games when timmy was around.

      Any proper USWNT fans have an opinion on the backups? I get the impression they are a big untested from this article.

  10. Hope Solo should be suspended….for life!!!!! Her actions show she hasn’t learned the errors of her ways. Lifetime ban, or I will no longer spend money on US Soccer. I am speaking with my wallet.

  11. So her husband was not only driving intoxicated; he was also driving a team van. This sheds substantially more light on the situation concerning her suspension. Actually, allowing another drunk driver to drive an “employers” car, she is lucky not to have been kicked out for good.


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