It’s a New Year and along with it comes a fresh start for U.S. National Team goalkeeper Hope Solo. The former Husky and Richland native is in the Los Angeles area for her second training camp under new coach Pia Sundhage. From there, it’s on to China and the Four Nations Cup beginning Jan. 16 in Foshan. For Solo and her USA teammates, the ultimate goal is to put a tumultuous World Cup behind them and return to China later this summer to claim Olympic gold.
How did it go, December’s camp with your new coach?
The first camp I spent all of my time and energy worried about what the social scene would be like for me personally, that to be quite honest I didn’t play that well. Socially, it looks like everything’s over and done with, and we can all move forward with qualifying for the 2008 Olympics. I could never have predicted Pia would handle things the way she did. When the last player had walked into the room for our first time meeting Pia, she stood up and started belting out this 60s protest song, The Times They Are A-Changin.’ And she sang it with emotion and every part of her being; she just belted it out with pride. Right there, she really set the tone. This team’s going to be different; it’s not going to be the same 2007 World Cup team. We have only nine months to put our team together and make the most of winning another gold medal. She made it loud and clear we’re not living in the past, we’re moving forward and things are going to be changing.
From what you saw in December, how will Pia influence that change?
I have great faith in her. To see her on the field, she’s so confident, so comfortable. She comes from a different belief system. She knows the game inside and out. She’s probably watched more games than any coach I’ve ever played for. I’m confident in her and the team is as well. In training, it’s very different and fun. She wants to give the game back to us. She wants us to be the artists of the game and not just to play systematically. If she does that, then we’re going to be the team that we should be.
What did the recent World Cup tell us about the state of the women’s game?
A lot of people have said negative things about the United States not rolling over people and bringing home gold medals. But it’s amazing to see how far the sport has come worldwide. No longer are these the days of the U.S. being the overwhelming favorite in tournaments, and I think that’s great. If we come back this summer with a gold medal, it will be incredibly more meaningful because the other programs have come so far. It’s hard to win these days.
Whereabouts are you living, and what are you doing these days?
My home is in Kirkland, only I’m never there and always on the road. When I have some time off I like to fill it with a vacation. I just went up to Whistler and I’m looking to go to Australia. I love snowboarding, but like a lot of professional athletes we’re not allowed to do a whole lot. I don’t make it back here all that often, but it is where I like to train, get fit and get ready for camp. And this is where my heart is.
In your youth days, you were quite a field player (109 career goals, two-time All-America forward at Richland). When was the last time you played up front and what do you miss?
I play pick-up games with my friends in Seattle, but I never play in goal when I do that. It’s not fun when I’m expected to be brilliant and great when everyone’s just trying to score on Hope Solo. I just like to get out on the field and mess around with everybody. It keeps my fitness up and I play all the time. It’s incredibly different mentally. I can make a mistake out on the field and I’d be over it in 10 seconds with the next sprint down the field. You can always recover and make up for it. In goal, you have to be at your best every second of the game, and there’s no mental or physical slip-ups. A mistake will haunt you, and yet you have to find a way to get rid of it. It’s a whole different situation.
What was the turning point in your career and in getting excited about goalkeeping?
The turning point didn’t come until my junior year in college. I didn’t like goalkeeping because I had no knowledge of it. I didn’t know enough about it to respect the position. The more I learned about it, I realized it’s–Oh, my gosh!–not only is it demanding physically, it’s such a mental position. It took my entirety to be the best I could be. It became more of a challenge than field playing ever was. I respected that. I grew into it. There are all the nuances that I’ve learned and continue to learn. I’ve found my love for it.
What about goalkeeping do you thrive on, and what frustrates you about the position?
For a long time I was embarrassed to say I was a goalkeeper because often times people assume those players have no ball skills or are not fit. It took me awhile to get over that stereotype. What I like the most and what’s hard to explain to the everyday fan is how much influence I have by just organizing and reading the game and assisting players left-right, up-back. It’s incredible that our team is actually preventing goals and preventing attacks by what’s coming out of my mouth. It takes years of experience, and I’ve only just begun to see the benefits in the last couple years. I know I can make a difference without even touching the ball.
How does a player at your level stay sharp without a league?
I’ve always been playing since college. After the WUSA league formed, I played in Philadelphia for a year. When the league folded, I went to Sweden and then France. These last couple years we’ve been fortunate enough to have the residency program leading up to the World Cup and this year’s Olympics. So with that I’m with my teammates about three weeks out of every month. When I come back to Seattle, it’s more difficult. It’s about being dedicated and going out in the pouring rain, going out by yourself and finding a wall to kick on or finding someone to shoot on you. I try to focus on my fitness. That’s the hard stuff: the day-to-day things you do on your own.
We hear very little about women’s club soccer overseas. How was it, playing in Europe, and how did it affect your career?
I would not be where I am, the starting goalkeeper for the U.S. team, had I not chosen to go overseas and play. My first year in Sweden is where I made the most strides, as a player and as a person. It was the first time I was really on my own. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about my game, my dreams, my aspirations in life. It’s really where I locked them down. It was the greatest thing I could’ve done. The level of play is incredible in Sweden. People don’t know that. There’s great parity. In France, there’s not much parity but the top teams are probably better than the top teams in Sweden.
How did Seattle getting an MLS team affect you??
I wanted to jump up and down and scream. I was so happy. I wanted to brag to every single one of my teammates, that we have a team in my hometown. I had talked to Drew Carey at a fundraiser some time ago, and he was talking about investing in a team. He talked to me a lot, apparently knowing that I was from Seattle. So I can’t tell you how great it is to see Drew Carey involved with this team.
The WUSA is apparently getting closer to a re-launch. What’s the latest?
It will be back in 2009. There have been a lot of doubts, but I’m now confident that this is going to take place. The men’s team coming here to Seattle gives me a lot of confidence that we’re looking to get a (women’s team) here as well someday. Not in the first year, probably not in the first two years, but I do have hope I will retire here one day.