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U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo is a big reason team Is in Women's World Cup semifinals - Washington Huskies

U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo is a big reason team Is in Women's World Cup semifinals

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The New York Times


MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany -- The team would joke about it later, but the moment grew too chaotic for Hope Solo. The U.S. goalkeeper had to get away.

This time the former Washington Huskies standout from Richland left on her own, not at the insistence of others.

The Women's World Cup soccer quarterfinals had reached penalty kicks Sunday after a stunning overtime comeback by the United States against Brazil. In a team huddle, forward Abby Wambach screamed at teammates to relax.

"Look who's talking," said midfielder Carli Lloyd, according to Solo, and some other players laughed edgily. Who could calm down with someone yelling at them?

A few players started punching Solo. These were fists of encouragement, meant to rouse and motivate her. But Solo felt her emotions rising when she needed to feel calm. So the 29-year-old walked away, strolled to the other side of the field in Dresden, and leaned on the advertising boards.

"We couldn't find her," U.S. captain Christie Rampone said.

Solo looked into the stands and found her mother, brother and sister. She spotted her aunt and uncle. She thought briefly about the 2007 World Cup, about how she wanted to enjoy this moment because that other moment had been so unpleasant.

Her father had died shortly before that World Cup. He had been perhaps Solo's biggest supporter and a bigger enigma, a U.S. military veteran who sometimes lived in a tent in the woods and was known to change his name.

When the 2007 World Cup started, Solo was still grieving. Then she was benched by coach Greg Ryan for a semifinal match against Brazil. The U.S. team lost 4-0 with Briana Scurry in goal. Afterward, Solo said she could have saved the shots that ended up in the net.

Many of Solo's teammates took her remarks as a criticism of Scurry, not just Ryan. Solo was banished from the third-place match and the team flight home from China, ostracized by women who had been her friends.

So on Sunday, as she awaited the penalty-kick shootout, Solo took in the crowd. If others were tense, she was relaxed.

"I just wanted to enjoy this moment because in 2007 I wasn't able to do that," she said. "I was at peace, clearheaded, right where I needed to be."

When Daiane, the third Brazilian shooter, set up for her penalty kick, Solo made her wait. She was stalling, trying to spot something that would betray Daiane's intent. Finally, she did. The way Daiane ran toward the ball, the angle of her approach, was the giveaway. She was behind the ball and her hips opened and the ball could only go in one direction. Solo dived to her right and punched the ball away, and the Americans soon advanced to the semifinals to face France here Wednesday.

It will be a challenge. The U.S. team is playing on short rest after a physically and emotionally draining quarterfinal. France plays elegant possession soccer. And the Americans will have to make a change in central defense.

Rachel Buehler is suspended with a red card. Becky Sauerbrunn is expected to take her place. She has not played yet in this tournament. But she will have Solo as a last line of defense, rangy, confident, renewed.

"I've been prepared for this through heartaches, through personal struggles," said Solo, who will make her 100th appearance for the American team in Wednesday's match. "This is what it's all about. It's about defying the odds for me. It's about proving people wrong. It's about playing the game I'm passionate about. This is what I live for. I've prepared my entire life for this moment."

Her right shoulder remains sore from surgery in September to repair a torn labrum. She grimaces before and during matches, windmilling her arm as if stretching in the bullpen.

"I'm in pain, but it's not pain that's going to hold me back," Solo said.

Solo's career trajectory shifted early in 2008, after Ryan's contract was not renewed and Pia Sundhage became the U.S. coach.

Sundhage made a calculation: Nobody succeeds without a capable goalkeeper. And Solo was -- is -- considered by many to be the best female keeper in the world.

"Whatever happened in 2007, I respectfully listened to the stories," Sundhage said. "I asked them not to forget -- because probably that's impossible -- but I wanted them to forgive going forward. This team is not about one player or an individual. It's about the team."

For reasons practical and professional, amends were made before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Solo made a critical save in the gold-medal match as the U.S. team beat Brazil 1-0. But she said beforehand some teammates were still standoffish.

Three years later, Solo seems fully back in the team. It was evident Sunday when she and Wambach jumped in each other's arms.

"I believe it's apropos what has happened with Hope in the last four years," Wambach said. "She's not only become the best goalkeeper in the world, but she's proven it by her actions."


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