In a move that seems both paternalistic and hypocritical U.S. Soccer announced on Wednesday that it has suspended Hope Solo from the U.S. WNT for six months for “conduct that is counter to the organization’s principles.”
With no major competition scheduled in women’s soccer until the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France this action by U.S. Soccer comes at a convenient time for the organization while it also appears designed to bring an end to the 35-year-old goalkeepers brilliant, if often controversial national team career.
Solo’s contract with U.S. Soccer has also been terminated, although she will be eligible for reinstatement and a new contract in February.
In its press release, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati cites Solo’s comments after the team lost to Sweden in which the combustible keeper called Sweden “cowards” for taking a conservative approach to the game. Gulati also states that because of “past incidents involving Hope, as well as the private conversations we’ve had requiring her to conduct herself in a manner befitting a U.S. National Team member, U.S. Soccer determined this is the appropriate disciplinary action.”
Calling Sweden cowards was certainly ill-mannered but it is difficult to imagine a player of Solo’s stature on the U.S. Men’s National Team being sent to the woodshed for six months for a similar offense. In fact, U.S. MNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s frequent calls for his players to be meaner, and to “step on their toes”, if taken at face value, would seem to violate Gulati’s following statement far more egregiously than Solo’s “coward” remarks.
“Beyond the athletic arena, and beyond the results, the Olympics celebrate and represent the ideals of fair play and respect. We expect all of our representatives to honor those principles, with no exceptions.”
We need only think back to a December 2011 incident involving Jermaine Jones to see the behavioral double standard that exists for men and women’s soccer players in the eyes of U.S. Soccer. While playing for his then club, Schalke, in a 3-1 loss versus Borussia Monchengladbach, Jermaine Jones, perhaps the most controversy-plagued member of the U.S. MNT, deliberately stomped on the foot of Gladbach star Marco Reuss, who was known to be wearing a special shoe designed to protect a broken toe.
Jones was suspended from German soccer for eight weeks for the assault, and assault is the word. Consider that Schalke General manager Horst Heldt used the word twice while defending Jones, saying this on the team website:
“I don’t want to downplay this, it was an assault which requires a certain penalty.”
“But there have been similar assaults which were then punished in the competition in which they took place.”
Following the incident, a prominent German commentator dubbed Jones the nastiest player in German soccer.
So how did U.S. Soccer treat the nastiest player in Germany? Did it suspend Jones? Banish him outright? No, it did no such thing. Instead, Jones was named captain the first chance Klinsmann got. The coach not only called the suspended player into January camp, Klinsmann handed Jones the captain’s armband for a pair of “friendlies” against Venezuela and Panama.
It is also hard to ignore the timing of this move by U.S. Soccer while also taking into account the slight but noticeable slip in Solo’s play during the just completed Olympic Games. The U.S. Soccer statement notes that Solo was suspended early in 2015 for 30 days, a suspension that stemmed from Solo’s fight with her sister and 17-year-old nephew.
That suspension ended in plenty of time for Solo, still clearly the best U.S. goalkeeper at the time, to get back into game shape for the Americans victorious World Cup run. Now with the World Cup and the Olympics out of the way the U.S. WNT has three years to find and groom a replacement for Solo, whose baggage has apparently become too heavy a load to bear given that she will be almost 38 years old when the World Cup kicks off in France.