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

Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention


Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

COUVA, Trinidad — Twenty-eight years after one of the United States' most important victories came in stunning fashion at Trinidad to end a four-decade World Cup absence, the Americans' chances for the 2018 tournament in Russia ended on this island nation off the coast of Venezuela.

The U.S. was eliminated from World Cup contention Tuesday night, a shocking 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago ending a run of seven straight American appearances at soccer's showcase.

The Soca Warriors scored a pair of first-half goals, getting one off U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, and the United States made too many other mistakes to recover. The Americans are out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

"We let down an entire nation today," Gonzalez said.

Shocked American players slumped on the bench, and Matt Besler sat on the field after the final whistle as Panama's game ended and then Costa Rica's. At the end, dejected U.S. players filed into their locker rooms with blank looks.

"We foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal," coach Bruce Arena said. "That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. That got them motivated."

The U.S. entered its final qualifier with a berth uncertain for the first time since 1989. Home losses to Mexico last November and Costa Rica left the Americans little margin for error.

The 28th-ranked Americans needed merely a tie against 99th-ranked Trinidad, which lost its sixth straight qualifier last week. But the defeat — coupled with Honduras' come-from-behind 3-2 win over Mexico and Panama's 2-1 victory over Costa Rica on Ramon Torres' 88th-minute goal — dropped the Americans from third place into fifth in the six-nation final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Mexico and Costa Rica already had clinched berths, and Panama claimed the third and final automatic spot and will go the World Cup for the first time. Honduras will meet Australia in a two-game playoff next month for another spot at next year's 32-nation tournament.

Missing the World Cup is a devastating blow to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has steadily built the sport in the last quarter-century with the help of sponsors and television partners. It also is a trauma for Fox, which broadcasts the next three World Cups after taking the U.S. rights from ESPN. The USSF hopes to co-host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada, and Morocco is the only other bidder.

After an 0-2 start in the hexagonal last fall under Jurgen Klinsmann, the USSF replaced him last November with Arena, the American coach from 1998-2006. The team revived with home wins over Honduras and Trinidad last spring and draws at Panama and Mexico. But the 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica in New Jersey at the start of Labor Day weekend proved one hurdle too many to overcome.

The Americans fell behind in the 17th minute when Gonzalez made a casual attempt with his left foot to clear Alvin Jones' cross and sent the ball looping over the outstretched right arm of goalkeeper Tim Howard from 18 yards.

Jones doubled the lead in the 37th with a 35-yard strike, again to Howard's upper right corner, and nearly scored another in the 44th when his swerving shot bounced off Howard's chest and spilled into the penalty area.

Christian Pulisic, the Americans' 19-year-old star midfielder, scored in the 47th minute from the arc with a right-footed shot. He played a role in 12 of the 17 American goals in the hexagonal.

One minute later, Howard made a kick save on Shahdon Winchester's short-range shot, and DeAndre Yedlin blocked Levi Garcia's follow-up attempt.

The U.S. bench was tense, as Honduras scored twice early in the second half to take the lead over visiting Mexico in the 60th minute and Panama tied the score against visiting Costa Rica in the 52nd.

Clint Dempsey, who entered at the start of the second half, was denied by goalkeeper Adrian Foncette's leaping save in the 69th and hit a post from 22 yards in the 77th. Pulisic's shot in the 87th was saved by Foncette.

All American reserves were standing for much of the final minutes, and Arena had repeated exasperated looks.

"No excuses for us not getting the second goal and at least a point," Arena said. "It's a blemish for us."

Just a few hundred fans were in the stands at 10,000-capacity Ato Boldon Stadium, located 24 miles south of the capital, Port-of-Spain. Paul Caligiuri's famous goal at the National Stadium in 1989 put the U.S. in the World Cup for the first time since 1950.

Among the spectators were a few dozen American Outlaws, the U.S. supporters group.

Water that had flooded the track surrounding the field ahead of the U.S. training session Monday was gone.

USMNT back on track with 4-0 pounding of Panama


USMNT back on track with 4-0 pounding of Panama

ORLANDO, Fla. — Teenage star Christian Pulisic scored with a brilliant touch to complete a field-length attack just eight minutes in, then split the defense with a pass that set up Jozy Altidore for the first of the forward's two goals and put the United States back on track for next year's World Cup with a 4-0 rout of Panama on Friday night.

Pulisic fed Altidore for a 2-0 lead in the 19th. Altidore converted a penalty kick with a chip in the 43rd after Bobby Wood was fouled, and Wood added a goal in the 63rd.

The U.S. ended a three-match winless streak in qualifying and with 12 points and moved two points ahead of Panama into third place — the last automatic berth — in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. Honduras has nine points going into its match Saturday at Costa Rica, which is second with 15.

Goal difference means the Americans put themselves in great shape to reach an eighth straight World Cup, almost certainly with a win Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago and likely with a draw if Honduras fails to win Saturday. The U.S. is plus-five to minus-two for Panama and minus-seven for Honduras.

The region's fourth-place team advances to a playoff next month against Australia or Syria.

"We could have finished better on the day and scored more goals," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Playing his first international match since he turned 19 last month, Pulisic was moved to central midfield from the flanks by coach Bruce Arena and sparked the attack from the opening whistle with pace and ball control seldom seen from Americans.

After Gabriel Gomez broke free from Omar Gonzalez and shot over the crossbar, Tim Howard's goal kick was headed forward by Bobby Wood about 10 yards past midfield.

Altidore one-timed the ball ahead to on a sprinting Pulisic, and the midfielder reached back with his left leg to flick the ball ahead. Pulisic jumped to avoid Roman Torres' challenge and used the outside of his right foot to play the ball forward. As goalkeeper Jaime Penedo came off his line, Pulisic used the outside of his right foot again to play the ball wide and jumped over Pinedo's outstretched arm. At the edge of the 6-yard box and just 2 yards from the endline, Pulisic reached with his right foot to slot the ball in, completing a 112-yard U.S. move. Pulisic tumbled over as the ball rolled in for his eighth goal in 19 international appearances, his fourth in the hex.

Pulisic created the second goal when he played the ball between his feet and faked Michael Murillo on the left flank Pulisic broke ahead and fed Altidore, who split the center backs and redirected the ball in from 5 yards for his first goal of the hexagonal. At that point, Pulisic had played a part in 11 of the Americans' 14 goals in the hex.

After Wood and Altidore failed to convert good chances, Wood drew the penalty kick when he exchanged passes with Paul Arriola along a flank, broke past Felipe Baloy, spurted diagonally into the penalty area and was pushed down by Armando Cooper. As Pinedo dived to his left, Altidore chipped the ball down the center for his 41st international game.

Hacked down several times by Panamanians, Pulisic was removed in the 57th minute and walked out to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 25,303 at Orlando City Stadium, which opened in February,

Wood added his 10th international goal off a pass from Arriola.

Panama was trying to move into position to qualify for its first World Cup. The Panamanians were 90 seconds from advancing to a playoff against New Zealand four years ago, when Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored late goals at Honduras, which dropped Panama behind Mexico and into fifth place.