Hope Solo sharp as World Cup looms
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Hope Solo is succinct about her preparedness for the upcoming Women's World Cup.
"I feel great," she said simply. "I don't need to expand, because I feel great. I feel really good."
Solo spoke briefly after the United States defeated Ireland 3-0 last weekend in San Jose, the first match of a send-off tour as the U.S. women's national team prepares for soccer's premier event in Canada starting in June.
The tour shifts to Carson, California, for a match against World Cup-bound Mexico on Sunday.
Solo didn't see a lot of action on her end of the field against Ireland. Abby Wambach scored twice and defender Julie Johnston added a third goal for the United States.
It was the fifth consecutive shutout for Solo and the U.S. team, and Solo's 83rd career shutout — an ongoing team record. She also has the record with 162 starts in goal.
Solo joked later about how she didn't break much of a sweat.
"Hey, life of a goalkeeper," she said. "I could never explain what it's like to be inside a goalkeeper's mind and what these games really are about. But it is my job and it is the life of a goalkeeper. I'm ready for the World Cup. I've been training my butt off so it would have been nice to get a little bit of action."
Solo is widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the women's game, but her tenure has not come without some off-field drama. Most recently, she served a one-month suspension from the team following her husband's arrest for DUI while driving a team van in January. Solo, in training camp at the time, was also in the van.
U.S. Soccer put conditions — which were not made public — on her return to the team, and Solo met them. She later admitted she saw a therapist, taking the time to focus on herself. She even launched a blog to share her thoughts about her journey.
Solo certainly appears to have returned from the time away with a renewed zeal. She has allowed just one goal — to Norway in the Algarve Cup in Portugal back on March 4 — in six matches.
Coach Jill Ellis and many of her teammates say Solo looks as dominant as ever.
"She has so much clarity right now. She's sharp. This is as sharp as I've seen Hope," Ellis said. "In training, and I thought in the Algarve she was brilliant. Her kicking game is fantastic right now, it's solid. Her decision-making. I think it's been really good to see Hope emerge to this point where she has laser focus and physically she's in a good place."
Solo's absence also revealed the relative inexperience of the options at goalkeeper behind Solo. Ashlyn Harris is her primary backup, with just six international appearances, including two matches earlier this year while Solo was out. Alyssa Naeher has just one cap.
This will be Solo's third World Cup. She played every minute of the last one in 2011 in Germany, where the United States fell in the final to Japan on penalty kicks.
The United States, which hasn't won a World Cup since 1999, begins the monthlong tournament on June 8 against Australia in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
"This is as focused, and as sincere and genuine as I've ever seen her," Wambach said about Solo. "I'm excited to see what she can do on the field, and excited to see how this World Cup transpires, not just for her but for us as a team."