Time has come for Solo to be someone else's problem


Time has come for Solo to be someone else's problem

Hope Solo, who has been the U.S. ambassador to “Hey, You Wanna Fight, Punk?” for nearly a decade, just got the backhand she seemed to have been spoiling for all these years.

This time, U.S. Soccer, the people who run . . . well, what do you think they run? . . . decided to suspend her for six months for her postgame analysis of the U.S.-Sweden match from the Olympics in which she graciously described the Swedes as “cowards” for not playing the way Solo wanted them to play.

The suspension isn’t that much of a much anyway. There are no huge moments for the U.S. women’s team in the next half-year, and what moments there could be after that can be spent looking for the next Hope Solo.

Solo the goalkeeper, not Solo the social scientist.

[RELATED: Hope Solo's 'cowards' comment nets her six month suspension]

But Solo’s verbal pugnacity was adjudged an embarrassment to the nation in the face of a legitimate defeat by a worthy opponent, an act of ill grace that needed punishment on the grounds that “You said something stupid that made us all look bad, even though it only made you look bad.”

And, it was stressed by whichever annoyed civil servant had to type the release, that Solo was paying the price she paid for being, well, Solo, which Solo even acknowledged in her own statement, which also was almost surely typed by someone else.

The key phrase: “I could not be the player I am without being the person I am, even when I haven’t made the best choices or said the right things.”

This would be the “I Yam What I Yam” defense as first articulated by Popeye the Sailor, and it carries as much throw-weight as a Popeye cartoon. Solo did not lash out as, say, Curt Schilling has in his latest brushes with The Man, but she basically said, “I must speak my truth.”

Which of course she actually doesn’t have to, and as an adult has control over what truths she chooses to share.

In this, her truth was actually an idiocy, since Sweden did what many teams do when confronted by a team with superior firepower. It played defensively, carefully and safely, and won in a penalty shootout because those are the rules by which the sport is conducted. The Swedes were not dirty, or divers, or time-wasters. They were tactical, and Solo’s complaint spoke more to frustration than a lack of understanding of tactics.

But it sounded stupid, in the same way that Pete Rose sounded stupid when he complained that Gene Garber wouldn’t throw him a fastball when Rose’s 44-game hitting streak was broken in 1978. Rose wanted the game to be played under “Call your own pitch rules,” just as Solo wanted Sweden to play in a style that disadvantaged Sweden.

Frankly, I’d have given her a year for speaking nonsense.

But what she did to put the final straw on the dromedary’s neck was to claim she could not be a great goalkeeper without the right to speak nonsense, and to act like a crass dullard when confronted with disappointment. She is saying she could not excel as an athlete without being a deliberate boor, which is a remarkable amount of leeway to give anyone.

The fact is, Hope Solo would be every bit the goalkeeper she has been if she hadn’t found ways to ram her cleats inside her mouth at inopportune moments. Her talent is not governed by her tongue, and her will to win is not affected by the freedom of her yap to flap.

And this comes from a First Amendment absolutist. Solo has the right to say what she feels, when she feels it. But in that way, her employers get to tell her what they think about it, and the public gets to say what they think about her and her employer on the issue.

So here’s the public saying, “We defend Solo’s right to speak, but she spoke stupidly, and since she’s had a habit of doing so, US Soccer has decided to look for alternatives to her unfettered cakehole."

Now if she’d called the Russians “cowards,” maybe that would have flown. Or if she’d said, “Shootouts suck,” she’d have been hailed as a sage. But the right to free speech in this society is governed most often by the range of an employer’s tolerance. Or a government’s. Or the public’s.

So this is the end of it? Probably not, because no scab ever goes unpicked, and no cause ever fully dies. Hope Solo gets six months, and may never play for the national team again, unless of course it can’t find a better goalkeeper. Because what we know as the First Amendment is actually filed under the actual First Amendment, known to historians as the Talent-Tolerance scale.

Specifically, we tolerate the behavior of the talent until we can find better talent to tolerate. US Soccer just put out a call to arms to find a more socially pliable goalkeeper/spokesman than Hope Solo, so she can be someone else’s problem from now on.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for

A heartfelt thank you to former Quakes defender Victor Bernardez


A heartfelt thank you to former Quakes defender Victor Bernardez

This week, the San Jose Earthquakes announced they would not be bringing back Victor Bernardez next year. 

For most people, this news barely registered on their radar, if at all.  For me, it is the end of the line for one of my favorite players, on my favorite team.

Who was Victor Bernardez?  He was an attacking central defender for the Quakes.  When he played, he constantly made you wonder if he was being overly aggressive, or out of control.  My heart would skip a beat when he would dive in on a tackle, and more often than not, he would come away having made an amazing play.

The first thing that stands out physically about Victor is his strength.  He’s like a bull or an angry rhinoceros -- he played fearlessly and with passion.  I constantly underestimated his offensive abilities.  I can’t count how many times it would look like he was just kicking the ball wildly to clear it, and it was actually a long pass in a perfect place for a counter attack to start.  Through some of the lean years, Victor’s long balls started many of the team's best offensive chances.

He was a relentless player who provided me some of my happiest moments as a fan.  I can clearly remember how despondent I was and how happy I ended up being at the 2012 California Classico at Stanford Stadium.  I had organized a trip for my kid’s soccer club and had over 200 people in our group.  For many, it was their first time to an Earthquakes game.  I wanted them to love the Quakes as much as I did.  Steven Lenhart scored an early goal (and did some pull ups on the goal). Then David Beckham scored, Jason Hernandez scored an own goal, and Landon Donovan put Galaxy up 3-1 in the 41st minute after a misplay by the Quakes defense. 

We were sitting in the end zone, pretty close to the Galaxy supporters group, and I was dreading things would get worse for my boys in the black and blue.  Then, in the 44th minute, Big Vic scored his first MLS goal on a swinging redirect off a Marvin Chavez corner kick, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve seen before or since.  It changed the whole outlook of the match.  Chris Wondolowski capped off the comeback with his unforgettable whirling, back-to-the-goal finish for the game winner.

I won’t forget the free-kick goal Victor scored that same year against Chivas where he took about 14 steps before he shot the ball around a 3-man wall and into the corner of the goal.  Nor will I forget the same approach he took when an opponent try to discourage him from a restart after a foul and stood about 3 yards from the ball.  Instead of asking the referee for 10 yards, he ran up and drilled the guy with the ball.  It deflected out of play for a throw-in and Victor had made his point. I don’t remember an opponent ever taking that same tact with him around.

Victor was listed as six-foot-two, but I was fortunate enough to share an elevator with him once.  I’m 5’10” and all I can think is that they measured him while wearing his longest studs on his cleats.  The truth is, while on the field, he played like he was six-foot-two -- and with the ferocity of lion. 

It was pretty clear this season that the club did not have plans for a 36-year-old center to come back in 2018.  In the middle portion of the season, other players found themselves where Victor had been a constant for years on the back line.  One of the things I am most grateful for is that Victor got a chance to be an impactful player on the run to the playoffs.  His passion for the club, and the game, shone bright.  His aggressive play in the September 30th must-win 2-1 victory over Portland showed the team how it needed to play if it was going to make the playoffs.  In spite of having trouble keeping up with speedster attackers, he was able to shore up a defense that ended the season -21 in goal differential, and get them into the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

There are other ways Victor has impacted my life.  He made me care about the country of Honduras, and how their national team is doing.  I openly cheered for a man nicknamed “Muma”.  I have no idea what it means, but it just sounds cool and makes me feel closer to him, even though our paths have rarely crossed.  He showed me how to be ready for when my number is called after feeling left out for a while.  He exemplified so many of the great things about the game and were a part of my growing love for the sport.  Most importantly, he showed me what can happen if a person puts their heart and soul into their craft, and complements it with humility, humor, and love.

Victor, I wish you well in whatever lies ahead.  Thank you for all the wonderful memories you provided me and my family as we got to watch you ply your trade.

Joe Washington is the senior coordinating producer for NBC Sports Bay Area/California  -- and a lifelong Quakes fan 

Why Quakes' hiring of Stahre is surprising, but not shocking at the same time

Michael Erichsen/Bildbyran

Why Quakes' hiring of Stahre is surprising, but not shocking at the same time

When the San Jose Earthquakes named Chris Leitch their head coach around the halfway point of last season, the biggest question wasn’t why, it was why not — as in, why not assign him the interim tag most people hired during the middle of a year get?

At the time, general manager Jesse Fioranelli's sans-interim approach was the GM saying that not only was the label not necessary and that Leitch was the in-house solution the Quakes needed to end a playoff drought going on five seasons but also that he was the right person to guide the team into a brighter future. 

And so that vote of confidence, coupled with Leitch guiding the Earthquakes to their first playoff appearance since 2012, plus the lack of an official announcement by the team that a coaching search was underway makes Friday’s hiring of Mikael Stahre a bit eye-popping and provides no clear-cut answer to what happened behind closed doors when the Quakes came back from Vancouver following a brutal exit from the postseason. 

Rumors began swirling midway through the week that Fioranelli had Stahre, the front man over at Sweden’s BK Hacken, in his sights. And there are those people who would argue the writing was on the wall for Leitch given the team’s inconsistent play — especially on the road. But were it not for some ambiguous, less-than-reassuring endorsements of Leitch following the 5-0 playoff loss that left the door open for just about anything, there are others who would say that Friday’s hiring of Stahre was completely out of left field. 

If anything, it appears Fioranelli, who Quakes fans knew very little about when he was hired as the GM back in January, is continuing a precedent that he’ll pull any trigger at any time. 

Whether Fioranelli’s decision to hire the Swedish head coach is the right thing to do is yet to be seen, obviously. Stahre built his name in Sweden, rising from the junior ranks to the front of a first team that last year jumped six spots in the standings. It’s one of many coaching statistics San Jose lists to try and assure fans they’re getting a true soccer mind for the job in Stahre. 

Fioranelli and team President Tom Fox are saying all the right things to welcome Stahre into the fold, mentioning his ability to relate to players — who reportedly gave Stahre glowing endorsements — as a key reason why he was ultimately chosen to lead the Quakes (read between the lines what you will there given the rumored-sour and still-unofficial departures of former Quakes mainstays Simon Dawkins, Cordell Cato and David Bingham once Leitch took over). 

Moreover, Fioranelli reiterated some of the points in the team’s press release during a conference call Friday afternoon. He mentioned that Leitch would stay on as the team’s technical director — the role he had before becoming the head coach and that the club’s decision to relieve him of the head coaching job had nothing to do with where the club was coming from (read: playoffs) but more so where they wanted to go moving forward (read: as of right now, unclear). Fioranelli said the search was extensive and that Stahre was one of three finalists for the job — including one from South America. He again pointed out that Stahre’s values align with those of the club and he’s a man his former players vouch for.

So, at least at first glance, San Jose is doing its best to make pretty and tie a bow around what was at-a-minimum an awkward firing of Dominic Kinnear and hiring of a man in Leitch who did just enough to justify the change but not enough to warrant extending Fioranelli’s experiment any longer. 

Only time will tell exactly what Fioranelli is creating over at Avaya Stadium.