By Tim Grainey
This week, the Roundup looks at Hope Solo’s new book that has received a lot of publicity.
First the good news, fears that Solo: A Memoir of Hope could supplant English international Ashley Cole’s position as author of the worst soccer biography ever written are unfounded. Solo’s book is interesting and well written; experienced journalist Ann Killion--who assisted Solo in the effort--has a deft touch with engaging prose at times.
This book is essentially a story of Solo’s difficult relationship with her family, particularly her father; a man with a checkered past who was homeless for years and even lived in the woods around Seattle. Their relationship is the dominant theme throughout the 285 pages. The reader experiences a full range of emotions from Solo’s telling of her difficult and complicated family background. This is a huge plus; it’s a story that will strike a chord with many readers.
That said, Hope Solo is a public persona based on her soccer career; she is widely recognized as the best women’s soccer goalkeeper in the world. If you are looking for a soccer book with insight into the players and tactics of the U.S. women’s national teams and professional teams that she has played on, this is not it. Is that bad? Not necessarily, but the soccer market’s expectations are that they would glean insight into the inner workings of the Women’s National Team, which has long been a pioneer and important benchmark for the advancement of all women’s team sports. She also missed an opportunity to delve into Women’s Professional Soccer, the professional league that folded this year. Having played for magicJack, the Florida team that owner Daniel Borislow is blamed by many for the league’s ultimate demise because of his Stalinesque handling of players and league officials; again she missed an chance to provide great insight and interesting stories for a unique franchise. Many times, in Solo’s first literary effort, soccer games and personalities seem tertiary.
One exception is the extensive analysis of the 2007 Women’s World Cup in China. There is scathing criticism of then U.S. National Women’s Team Head Coach Greg Ryan. Before the semifinal versus Brazil, Ryan controversially benched Solo, preferring 1999 Women’s World Cup heroine Brianna Scurry despite that fact that she had played very little for him. With Solo seething on the bench, the Americans fell apart against a magnificent attacking side and lost 4-0, their largest defeat in national team history. After the match, Solo aired her views to a Canadian reporter and they went viral. In the aftermath of the stunning defeat, Ryan--viewed by many as a lame duck coach soon to be jettisoned--went along with the team leaders’ draconian decision to ostracize Solo. She couldn’t eat with the team, had to fly home separately and missed out on the bronze medal ceremony. Solo remained a pariah even while the team toured the U.S. on a post-tournament tour. Solo’s telling of the most divisive incident in the history of the Women’s National Team reveals a spiteful, vindictive campaign by her teammates to punish and ultimately drive her from the national team. Pia Sundhage’s arrival a short while after as Ryan’s replacement put an end to the gulag-like atmosphere.
Sundhage, a former international player with Sweden and professional coach in the WUSA, immediately faced questions from the media about Solo’s status. She replied that Hope was a good goalkeeper and would be given a chance to compete. Later she said, “I could just ignore it [the controversy] and say I wasn't part of it. But I wanted to respect all the feelings that were flying around. The other thing I said [to the team] was, ‘Do you want to win?’ Yes. ‘Then we need goalkeepers.’” Though the healing began and Solo says that her relationship with prolific forward Abby Wambach is much improved, former team members Kate Markgraf, Kristine Lilly and Cat Reddick will cringe at Solo’s depictions of them during that incident.
In 2007, I wrote: “The U.S. players, in their eagerness to teach Solo a lesson, didn’t realize that in the process they were destroying the solidarity of the team and risking their ability to function productively as a group. The U.S. Women’s National Team became the prototype of a dysfunctional group gone power hungry, ignoring the opportunity to analyze why they imploded against Brazil, including team preparation and Ryan’s tactical decisions. Just as Solo was wrong for attacking a teammate [Scurry], the rest of the team was also wrong for hazing a teammate. Indentured servants were treated better than Solo was.” Solo describes the support that U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati and CEO Dan Flynn provided—two classy individuals whose actions were one of the few positives from an incident that left a lot of damage.
Solo missed an opportunity to describe in as much detail how the emotionally scarred team came together to win a Gold Medal at the Beijing Olympics less than a year later and how she built up those severed relationships with players, some of whom remain teammates to this date. It would have helped understand the continuing debate on how men’s and women’s team handle interpersonal conflict. After the 2007 World Cup, Solo felt that discarding the female harmony mystique would be a step forward, when she said: “We don't have to be friends to respect what somebody does on the field. I truly hope women's sports can get to that point. We like to say we are, but I don't think we’re there yet.” It would have been enlightening for her to expound on this issue—an important one for all of women’s sports, particularly since the national team became so successful in the five years after Ryan’s departure (two Olympic Gold Medals and one World Cup second place finish).
One has to wonder if this book will drive a wedge into team relationships that will change with a new coach, as Pia Sundhage has recently announced that she is resigning to return home to Sweden. There clearly will be between the 99’s—the winners of the 1999 World Cup and important leaders of the game such as Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm—and Solo’s comments about the tension between the 99’s and the current generation is intriguing and demands more explanation. Is it because negotiations on contracts were universally handled by the senior squad members as Solo suggests? This is counter to Chastain’s, Foudy’s and Hamm’s continual proclamations that they were fighting for the betterment of the next generation of players. So now that Hope is a senior member of the squad, how does she and others like Abby Wambach feel about their negotiations with U.S. Soccer (now that there is no longer a professional league) and the following generation? Solo is so often reclusive—which she explains well in her book—it’s hard to see her having the developmental legacy of the 1999 troop.
Solo: A Memoir of Hope reads quickly--one colleague completed it in a day. A caution for young readers (or their parents): the language is graphic and the profanity could be offensive. Don’t miss the addendum chapter on the 2012 Olympics which is available on the publisher’s website via a free download. There is some interesting information on the games, her positive doping test results just ahead of the game and why Pia Sundhage didn’t want the book published until after the Olympics. Let’s hope that Hope Solo’s biography’s early sales success and publicity will see more books by key figures in the women’s game.
Tim Grainey is a regular contributor to Soccer365. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham was released earlier this month. Get your copy today.
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