The outspoken USA goalkeeper, who turns 36 this summer, is inching back into the spotlight after a six-month suspension and shoulder replacement surgery
For months, the question was simple. Where is Hope Solo?
The former and perhaps future US womens goalkeeper, who parlayed her fame into an appearance on Dancing With The Stars and legions of social media followers, had pulled a reverse DB Cooper, leaving Washington state and disappearing into an area defined by her management only as rural North Carolina.
Now shes tiptoeing back into the spotlight. Shes making a handful of media and public appearances, all on her own terms. Over the weekend, she was in Philadelphia as an ambassador for Street Soccer USA, which hosted a youth event and announced teams for the Homeless World Cup. Shes doing neither of the things for which shes famous playing soccer and stirring up controversy.
Those who know Solo still arent ready to talk about her and what she may do in the future. Among those who declined or didnt respond to requests for comment from the Guardian for this story: Solos lawyers, the US womens players union and a number of former team-mates.
So now the question is more complex: who is Hope Solo? And who will she be when shes healthy enough to play again?
Solo has little left to accomplish in international soccer. She has two Olympic gold medals and one World Cup title. Individually, she has two World Cup Golden Glove awards and a staggering 102 shutouts in 202 games.
She has been off the field for two reasons. Firstly because of shoulder replacement surgery, a final effort to clear up some long-standing issues. Secondly, and more infamously, because of her six-month suspension (now served) from the US team after the 2016 Olympics. In Rio, she referred to Sweden, the first team to beat the USA in the quarter-finals of a major tournament, as a bunch of cowards, the latest in a long line of controversies dating back to her benching and subsequent outburst at the 2007 World Cup.
Solo has said her fight for equal pay for womens players was a factor in her dismissal. But the other players who led that effort Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe continue to have prominent roles with the team, sometimes in spite of hard-core fans preferences to see younger players in the mix.
Another narrative: US Soccer put up with Solo until a drop in performance, including a couple of uncharacteristic blunders in the 2016 Olympics, made her expendable. CNN commentator Mel Robbins made that case in criticizing US Soccer as an example of a dysfunctional organization tolerating misbehavior by its top performers: Shes dominated the field for more than a decade, which is why her behavior off the field has been tolerated for so long. She has trashed her coaches, berated team-mates and frustrated the federation. And until now, US Soccer has given her behavior a slap on the wrist. Last Wednesday, that came to an end.
US Soccer did indeed put forth the line that the cowards comment was simply the last straw. Each time an action has been taken theres been made clear an expectation that this would be the last time such a step would be necessary, coach Jill Ellis said in September.
And Solos list of controversies, and triumphant returns, is long.
She was benched for the 2007 World Cup semi-final against Brazil reasons cited include the implausible notion that the team had more confidence in rusty veteran Briana Scurry and the plausible notion that missing curfew and a team meeting had not gone over well and sounded off after the USAs 4-0 loss with a cutting comment: sheres no doubt in my mind I wouldve made those saves. She was cast out by angry team-mates.
But the next year, she was back. And in the 2008 Olympic final, she turned in one of her many big-game masterpieces as the USA won gold and exacted revenge on the Brazilian team that played them off the field in 2007.
Over the next four-year cycle, she courted controversy several times, hurling accusations of favoritism and even racism at rivals and others associated with Womens Professional Soccer, the league that ran from 2009 to 2011. Her 2012 book, Solo: A Memoir of Hope, doubled down on some of those accusations and re-opened the scars of the 2007 benching.
A couple of her targets returned fire. Greg Ryan, who was US coach during Solos benching at the 2007 World Cup, denied her allegation that he shoved her in a meeting. Andrew Crossley, a former executive with the Boston Breakers, picked apart Solos restated accusations of racial abuse from Boston fans. Maksim Chmerkovskiy, her partner on Dancing With The Stars, denied claims that he slapped her.
But most of her former colleagues simply dont engage. Brandi Chastain, a veteran player who handled commentary duties in the 2012 Olympics, said little in response to Solos Twitter critique of her broadcasting skills. Team-mates from 2007 said little about her accusations of unfair treatment.
And once again, Solo shook off the controversy and emerged with on-field honors: a Golden Glove and Bronze Ball in the 2011 World Cup despite a loss in the final to a brilliant Japanese team, then Olympic gold in 2012.
The controversies of the next four years didnt involve soccer. The general public learned of her engagement to former NFL player Jerramy Stevens when police arrested Stevens at her house the evening before their wedding in 2012. (Stevens was never charged.) In 2015, Stevens served 30 days in jail and Solo was suspended from the national team for 30 days after Stevens was arrested for DUI while driving a US team van.
Another family incident is still tied up in Washingtons courts. In 2014, she was charged with two counts of fourth-degree assault after an incident with two relatives. A local judge dismissed the charges the next year due to issues with depositions and witnesses, but prosecutors successfully appealed to reinstate them in October 2015. Solos legal team has fought the decision to reinstate the charges ever since, losing several appeals and reviews but eventually getting the case put on hold until the state Supreme Court rules on an unrelated case that also has witness issues.
All of which means Solo may or may not need to return from her new home or perhaps a new club team to stand trial in Washington, depending in part on how well prosecutors followed procedure in an obscure DUI case that doesnt involve Solo in the least.
But Solo was able to participate in the World Cup and Olympics, all while maintaining a high profile. A documentary called Keeping Score had a shocking finale: Solos raw emotions after US Soccer suspended her for six months and terminated her playing contract.
Solo also opted against returning to her NWSL team, the Seattle Reign. A month later, she had her shoulder surgery. And for the most part, she dropped from public view for a while.
She still isnt doing many interviews. An exception was an interview/photo shoot for Seattle-based Ville Magazine that offered more brand promotion than in-depth information. Next to a photo of Solo wearing $798 leggings and a $436 leather jacket, the introduction maintains the well-worn narrative of Solo as the target of misplaced slings and arrows: However, physical injuries arent the only challenge shes had to withstand. Being a subject of controversy in her personal and professional life has taken its own toll. The media has painted a negative picture of this Washington native, but that is far from what defines her and who she really is.
She did give a glimpse of her controversial side in an entertaining promo for TV network Eurosport. Filmed in Barcelona, the short video shows Solo bossing around the equally colorful Eric Cantona, riffing on Lionel Messis tax issues, and firing back at Polish legend Zbigniew Boniek over his dismissal of a womans input in soccer. Well, Zbigniew, Solo says to the camera. How about my foot in your balls? Is that useful input?
She also works in a shot at the US womens national teams new collective bargaining agreement. They finally made it equitable, Solo says. Meaning equal minus 40%. The new CBA terms arent public, but we know that the teams leaders at least, once Solo was no longer in the picture asked to maintain the womens teams unique salary-based structure rather than the mens bonus-only structure, rendering a strict percentage comparison impossible.
But such barbs are infrequent these days. Her once-fiery Twitter feed is now a low-key, erratically updated stream of gardening photos, promotions for refugee aid, positive reinforcement of other political causes, and the occasional playful tweet making light of her absence from soccer fields and TV screens. She has more video projects lined up an appearance on a golfing series with Lady Antebellums Charles Kelley, and a medical documentary series called The Cutting Edge, for which she is also an executive producer. She also teased a return to the field, then revealed she was merely playing in a alumni game at the University of Washington.
Such tweets raise the inevitable question: can Solo come back? Or is she ready to make a metamorphosis like John McEnroe, who plays the bad-boy image from his playing days for the occasional laugh?
Her interview with Ville magazine leaves things vague. Im not trying to be in any hurry right now, she says. Im just going to follow what Dr [Frederick Matsen, her surgeon] had to say and listen to my body. Im not going to be pressured by anyone Im going to do whats best for me.
Solo mentions overseas options. And though she speaks highly of Seattles incumbent keeper Haley Kopmeyer in her Ville interview, she says the Reign would welcome her back. In the same interview, she appears to rule out playing for the USA as long as men and women are not paid equally.
Even if she makes peace with the womens pay and US Soccer gives her another chance, an aging keeper Solo turns 36 in late July returning from surgery may find it more difficult to claim a spot on the US roster. The starting goalkeeper position has rarely been in dispute Scurry from 1995 to 2004 except for a brief tenure for Siri Mullinix, then Solo ever since but its open now. Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris took turns as Solos primary backup, and the NWSL has seen the emergence of a younger generation, including Kopmeyer.
But Solo, who has always been better in international play than in club play, has that intangible a tendency to come up big in the biggest games. I believe shes still the best goalkeeper in the womens game, and if she wants to play, I would never doubt her, says Ann Killion, a Bay Area sportswriter and the co-author of Solos memoir.
And whether she returns to the US team or not, Solo may still make waves again. Ville magazine says, Hope may have left Seattle on her quest to get back some peace, but she doesnt plan on staying quiet.
So what would an older and presumably wiser Solo say?