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Hard Return
GRANT WAHL
June 30, 2008
Her World Cup outburst violated the team-first ethos of women's sports and made her an outcast. Now Hope Solo is the U.S. goalie once again, bound for Beijing—and still trying to figure it all out
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June 30, 2008

Hard Return

Her World Cup outburst violated the team-first ethos of women's sports and made her an outcast. Now Hope Solo is the U.S. goalie once again, bound for Beijing—and still trying to figure it all out

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After a monthlong team hiatus, Solo says, she wasn't sure she wanted to return to "what I saw as a sorority-style atmosphere" when the squad reconvened in December. But U.S. Soccer officials made it clear that Solo wouldn't face further discipline, and the team had a new coach in Sundhage. "I had a choice," says Sundhage. "I could just ignore it and say I wasn't part of it. But I wanted to respect all the feelings that were flying around. The other thing I said [to the team] was, 'Do you want to win?' Yes. 'Then we need goalkeepers.'" It was a healthy dose of straight talk (translation: grow up and play) from a coach who set the tone in her first team meeting by singing Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin'.

"Fake it till you make it," one of Solo's friends told her. And so she did, smiling her way through the December camp and a tournament in China in January. "Then I'd go home and take a deep breath and feel like I could be myself without being judged," Solo says. "It got to the point where I really believed it. All of a sudden these smiles were genuine, and I think my heart changed. Time has really been the great healer. I know a lot of us have done some deep soul-searching. I'm genuinely enjoying my teammates again, which I never thought was possible."

Solo and Wambach both say they have become experts in agreeing to disagree, and time has softened their stances on the World Cup conflict, but only somewhat. Wambach stands by the decision to keep Solo off the squad for the third-place match ("It would have affected my ability to prepare for the game," she says), but she allows that it was "probably an overreaction" to tell Solo not to come to the stadium. For her part, Solo maintains that her remarks after the loss to Brazil were heartfelt while acknowledging the damage they caused. "I believe everything I said," she insists. "Did I want to disrespect my teammates or Bri? No. Do I regret hurting them? There are days when I feel bad, and it's hard to keep my head up. I broke every code this team has been built on. I realize that."

LAST MONTH, a few days before a game between the U.S. and Canada, Solo and Scurry finally sat down across from each other, for 2 1/2 hours at a café in Washington, D.C. "It's been long overdue," Solo said the next morning, her eyes still red. "I'd been scared to have that conversation." Solo says it was Scurry who'd done more than any other teammate to support her when her father died, who'd stared into her eyes as Solo rocked back and forth on her bed—I can't do this!—and said, over and over again, Yes you can, Hope. In the first game after Jeffrey Solo's death, Scurry had put his initials on her goalie gloves and dedicated the match to him.

Jeffrey had been Hope's first soccer coach, in Richland, Wash., and the source of her love for sports. But he was also a mystery. Hope knows he lived in New York City and Boston, fought in Vietnam and changed his surname twice over the years, leading her to believe he was part of the witness-protection program. As his marriage to Hope's mother, Judy, foundered, he absconded with eight-year-old Hope and her 11-year-old brother, Marcus, to Seattle for three weeks. Then, after a decade of almost no contact, Hope and Jeffrey reconnected during her four years at the University of Washington. Though living in a tent in the woods, he attended all of Hope's home games, and she would take macaroni and cheese and join him for long talks. "The World Cup was the only thing that kept me together after my dad passed away," says Solo, who scattered his ashes in front of her goal before games in China. "I played that World Cup for him and him alone."

Scurry's father, Ernest, had died two months before the 2004 Olympics, and she says she understood Solo's fragile emotional state during the World Cup. But as Scurry explained to Solo during their conversation last month, she couldn't fathom why Solo had put herself above the team, why she had disrespected the very players who'd made it possible for her to have a career playing soccer. "We've always tried to be positive role models and show girls how to be good sports, gracious in victory and defeat," Scurry says. "Her comments were difficult to deal with, but one person's opinion doesn't define who I am or what I've done for this team."

It's a confusing time for Solo, to say nothing of her teammates. Yes, she thinks the U.S.'s traditional harmony-first culture needs to change. "We don't have to be friends to respect what somebody does on the field," she says. "I truly hope women's sports can get to that point. We like to say we are, but I don't think we're there yet."

But then Solo has conversations like the one with Scurry, and it's hard to imagine that women's teams won't always be different from men's. The two goalkeepers talked about forgiveness, about their fathers, about their respect for each other. Scurry said she'd always thought Solo was a good kid before the World Cup, and after the speechless Solo's eyes welled up, Scurry broke the silence: "Hope, I still think you're a good kid."

At the end they embraced.

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