Solo

'Solo' – a no-holds-barred, tell-all autobiography – has already rocked some boats.

By , Staff Writer

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    Solo
    By Hope Solo with Ann Killion
    HarperCollins
    304 pp.
    View Caption

Hope Solo is not the type of person to write anything other than a no-holds-barred, tell-all kind of autobiography.  That is exactly what Solo: A Memoir of Hope, written with columnist Ann Killion of SportsIllustrated.com, delivers: a behind-the-scenes account of the good, the bad, and the ugly of Solo’s challenging personal life and that of her many years as a goalkeeper for the US women’s national soccer team.

Knowing that the release of such a life story might ruffle some feathers and be a distraction, national team coach Pia Sundhage asked her star keeper to delay the book’s release until after this summer’s London Olympics. Sundhage even was prepared to bench Solo if she didn’t comply, according to an e-book epilogue to the memoir.

The post-Olympic release, as it turns out, has only enhanced public interest and helped it to become an immediate bestseller. Why? Because while the book ends with the US loss to Japan in the 2011 World Cup final, in London the American squad defeated Japan, 2-1, to win the gold medal – the ultimate hook for readership.

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The game drew 80,000 spectators to Wembley Stadium and was watched by millions of viewers around the world. The afterglow continues as the team heads into the first of three post-Olympic matches in the US, beginning with a sold-out match Saturday (Sept. 1) against Costa Rica in Rochester, N.Y.

As anticipated, however, the “Memoir of Hope” has rocked some boats, including that of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” on which Solo appeared as a partner with professional dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy in 2011. In writing of her experiences on the show, she claims Chemerkovskiy handled her roughly and even slapped her once during a heated rehearsal. A possible lawsuit has been rumored, but Solo says she stands by her story, as she does by another episode related in the book about a confrontation that occurred with former national team coach Greg Ryan. The events surrounding the latter episode are some of the most emotionally charged in a book not lacking in this department. (It should perhaps be noted here that this is not an autobiography for the young and impressionable, especially given the liberal use of the “f” word.)

Solo and Ryan did not enjoy good relations in 2007, when Solo was the starting goalkeeper for the US World Cup team, but the relationship really deteriorated before a semifinal game against Brazil when Ryan told Solo he’d decided to replace her in goal with Briana Scurry. Solo did not take the news well. She objected to starting Scurry, who, though a veteran star of previous World Cup and Olympic teams, had seen little action playing behind Solo, who felt she was playing the best she’d ever played. When she stood up to leave, Ryan shoved her back down on the couch, or so she says. Ryan denies the accusation.

The situation grew worse after Brazil beat the US 4-0, handing the Americans their worst World Cup loss in history. When approached by an ESPN interviewer afterward, Solo said that playing Scurry was “wrong,” among other terse comments.

The short interview caused tremendous pushback from her teammates, who felt she’d broken a team code by going public with her dissatisfaction. Solo found herself a pariah who was isolated and ostracized in various ways, including by being told she wouldn’t be allowed to fly home from China with the team. She was even forced into making a formal apology.

A cloud hung over her career until Sundhage, a former star of the Swedish national women’s team, was named to replace Ryan in 2008. The change provided Solo with a fresh start under a coach not beholden to golden oldie memories created by the ‘99ers, the American players, including Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, whose victory in the 1999 World Cup lifted women’s soccer to new heights.

The folk-singing new coach pulled out her guitar at her first team meeting to send the message that a new era was dawning.  She strummed and sang the Bob Dylan lyric “For the times they are a-changin.” She also told the players that they needed a goalkeeper and that forgiveness was expected of anyone who harbored resentment.

The team “stepped out of the shadows of the past” and established its own legacy by winning the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, then playing in a World Cup championship game for the ages in 2011, when Japan won on penalty kicks after the score was deadlocked in overtime. It was a spectacular effort by both teams, and although the US lost, Solo was presented the Golden Glove award as the tournament’s best goalkeeper.  That essentially conferred upon her status as the world’s top goalkeeper as she approached her 30th birthday  – nearly 17 years after she entered the Olympic development pipeline.

It was an immensely satisfying moment for a woman whose upbringing includes many trying moments and hardly fits the typical suburban soccer image. As a young girl, she lived in a tract house in Richland, Wash., a nuclear industry town east of the Cascades noted for having one of the most toxic waste sites in the country nearby. 

Her mother, a karate black belt, worked at various times testing plutonium samples and as the first woman corrections officer at Walla Walla Penitentiary. Her dad’s checkered life included several brushes with the law. He was imprisoned for embezzlement and was long a murder suspect who wasn’t exonerated until after his death. After a breakup with his wife, he became homeless, lived in a tent in the woods, and made his “living” shoplifting.

Despite the heartache he caused his daughter and family, he never quit showering love and encouragement on his “Baby Hope,” cheering her on wherever and whenever he could. That included at her youth league games and those at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Hope dedicates the book to her mother, who overcame a drinking problem, and who she calls “the true champion."  But it’s the love of her dad, through it all, that she says defines her.  As she poured his ashes into the clear waters of the Cascades runoff in 2009, she whispered, “Thanks, Dad. You made me who I am” – tough, resilient, a fighter to the end.

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