U.S. women’s national team goalkeeper Hope Solo was all smiles as she walked across the field at the Soccer Park in Fenton after a lengthy practice session on Wednesday afternoon, even after two hours of running and diving on the artificial turf there. It was her first time back at the field since she played there for the Athletica, St. Louis’ entry in Women’s Professional Soccer, as the U.S. team gets ready to face New Zealand at Busch Stadium on Saturday.
“I’ve always wanted to make it back,” she said. “I never seemed to.”
Solo has been making some comebacks of another kind in the past few months, after a turbulent stretch that saw her facing misdemeanor assault charges and then, for a separate incident, getting suspended for a month by U.S. Soccer. But she has gotten through it, and can now smile.
“I’ve gone through a lot of emotions,” she told the Post-Dispatch, “but I’m where I need to be emotionally and now I can continue to peak and focus on the physical side.”
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It started in June, when Solo was charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault in Washington after an altercation with her half sister and 17-year-old nephew. Both sides identified the others as the aggressor. Those charges were dismissed by a judge in January, but not before U.S. Soccer was criticized for not suspending Solo, as even the NFL had done in the face of domestic violence allegations against its players.
Then, a week after that chapter closed, another was opened. Solo’s husband, former NFL player Jerramy Stevens, was charged with driving under the influence in Manhattan Beach, Calif., near where the U.S. team was having training camp. Solo was a passenger in the vehicle and wasn’t arrested but the website TMZ quoted unnamed law enforcement sources saying Solo was “acting belligerent” during her husband’s arrest.
After the news went public, U.S. Soccer suspended Solo for 30 days and sent her home from camp, citing “a poor decision that has resulted in a negative impact on U.S. Soccer and her teammates.”
The suspension caused her to miss the first two matches of the year for the U.S. as they began to prepare for this summer’s Women’s World Cup, and cast doubt about her status for the tournament. The U.S. didn’t particularly dazzle in their two games in Europe, losing the first match 2-0 to a strong France team and then beating England 1-0. Solo was back for the team’s annual trip to the Algarve Cup in Portugal and, coincidence or not, with Solo in the lineup, they won that tournament, going 3-1.
“It’s been tough, it really has,” Solo said. “Ultimately, right now, I feel great. I think the 30-day suspension was probably really good for me. I took time to myself, I did things I needed to do, I dealt with some issues I needed to deal with. … Everything that happened, it was really tough to go through. But I’m in a really good place now. Hopefully I’ll continue to be able to peak, not just mentally but physically of course, in time for the World Cup. I feel I’m where I need to be emotionally.
“The court case with my family was very difficult to go through. I don’t think anybody really understands what that was like. For me, for my husband, for my family, I did everything I could to show up and be a professional on the soccer field, but I was filled with a lot of emotions. It was a public embarrassment, betrayals by family members. It was horrible. It was awful. My heart was broken. And I never really dealt with those emotions, so the 30-day suspension, I went to the soccer field and I trained my butt off and I did everything I could. But I wasn’t right inside. I trained hard, but I just needed to deal with the pain and the emotions, so those 30 days allowed me to do that. It allowed me to see a therapist, to understand why I was so sad and emotional.”
Solo, who also is seeing an Eastern medicine healer, has never been shy about talking, but she said talking about her anxieties with a therapist was a breakthrough.
“Just being able to speak about what I went through with somebody helped me release the anger, release the emotion and the pain, and just focus on myself more and get back to the game I love,” she said. “It’s been very healing. It was a really healing 30 days, and not just those 30 days, but since then. It’s not like I did something in 30 days and stopped. My husband and I have both been working on ourselves, being better husbands, wives, daughters, friends, better people. We’re both in a really good place. Right now I’m having a great time with my teammates, I feel good for the World Cup. I feel good.”
If there was uncertainty at the time of the suspension as to what it might do to coach Jill Ellis’ choice in goal, there doesn’t seem any now. Solo is ready. The games in Portugal showed that — to the team and to her.
“(The games in Portugal) felt like a big weight off my shoulders,” Solo said. “I felt free again, to love the game and to play. I just think with the stress came a type of anxiety I’d never known. It was good to deal with that. I felt lighter, I felt free.”
“As a team we stand by each other,” said defender Lori Chalupny, who has been Solo’s teammate on both the national team and the Athletica. “That’s the whole thing about this. Hope took care of herself when she had a little time away. She’s back now and we’re grateful to have her. … Hope is a world class goalkeeper, the best in the world in my opinion. She’s an important member of this team. It’s great to have her back.”