BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil — U.S. women's national team goalkeeper Hope Solo was at the center of attention in Wednesday’s 2-0 Olympic-opening victory over New Zealand, and not just because she posted her world-record 102nd international clean sheet in her 199th appearance for the national team.
The Brazilian fans at the Estádio Mineirão booed every time Solo touched the ball and chanted “Zika!” after some of her goal kicks. It was in response to photos Solo had posted last month on social media showing her preparations for Brazil, which included mosquito-net headgear and a large cache of insect repellent for her trip.
On Thursday, Solo sat down with SI.com and talked about a number of topics, including the U.S.’s upcoming showdown against France on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN); her influential role in the U.S. players’ wage discrimination complaint against U.S. Soccer; her new digital documentary series involving herself, Megan Rapinoe and Crystal Dunn; and what she calls the “due diligence” she did researching the Zika virus before deciding to come to Brazil. (Through her spokesperson, Solo said she didn’t have anything new to add on her fourth-degree domestic violence case in Washington State, which has yet to be resolved.)
As for the Brazilian booing?
“I did know they were booing, but it doesn’t affect me,” Solo said. “I came here to do one thing, and that’s to help our team win, our country win. And I’m very focused in doing that. Is it a bummer? I wish people would understand that I did my due diligence before coming to Brazil. It was a personal decision I had to make alongside my husband. And it’s not something I just spoke about without getting educated on. It was something very serious to me because I do want to start a family.”
“The CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and even the World Health Organization came out and said any pregnant women or if you intend to get pregnant anytime soon, we do not advise traveling to Brazil. So it’s not like I just made this up. I listened to the CDC. I listened to the World Health Organization. I spoke to experts.”
Here’s the interview, lightly edited for length and clarity (you can listen to the full interview in the podcast below):
SI.com: We’ll get the Brazilian fan reaction to you later, but for now I just want to look ahead to this France game. These might be the two best teams in the world right now. What are you expecting against France?
Solo: I expect a very tough game. This very likely could be a final. They’re a tough team, a tough attacking team. They attack with numbers. I’ve said all along they’re one of the tough teams to defend against because they often have six attacking players on our back line. They attack in waves. It’s not just the initial attack, it’s the second wave of attack as well. It’s going to be tough, but this is what the team lives for, these intense games, competitive matches, the rivalries. And it is a rivalry now. It’s not just USA-Canada or USA-Brazil or USA-Germany. France now is one of our main rivals because they are that great.
SI.com: Looking back on the U.S. win against New Zealand, what did you take away from the game?
Solo: I think it was a great start for us. You never know how you’re going to start. Oftentimes it’s a slow start or you see the nerves. Often we tend to fall back on our old ways sometimes and like to clear the ball in the defense as opposed to passing it around the back. So I think it wasn’t our best game. The speed of play wasn’t as great as we wanted it to be. We didn’t go through the midfield as much we hope to against France. But all in all, we had our forwards scoring goals, which gives Alex [Morgan] and Carli [Lloyd] confidence. We had players getting minutes. You had the young players getting experience, like Mallory Pugh and Lindsey Horan and Allie Long. And our defense didn’t give up a goal. So honestly, what more can you ask for? We got three points.
SI.com: I’m sure you’re aware of this: No reigning Women’s World Cup champion has ever won the Olympic gold medal. If the U.S. were to win gold here, should you be considered the best women’s soccer team of all time?
Solo: Of course you have to ask me a question that no matter how I answer people won’t be happy (laughs). But let me see if I can explain this correctly so that people can understand where I’m coming from. No offense at all to previous and past teams. There have been some incredible, historic, really great teams that have come in the history of U.S. Soccer. And nobody can take away from that.
I do believe, and I won’t say our current team, but our 2015 World Cup-winning team is the best team in the history of the game. And I say that because the game has evolved. Are we going to be the best that ever played? Absolutely not. I think four years from now the best team will be the best [ever]. So it’s not some arrogance thing. I just think as the game evolves, we Americans as well as around the world continue to improve our game. It’s a faster-paced game. There’s more ball skill. There’s more scoring. Even the goalkeeping is getting much better across the women’s game. So I think the game continues to grow and evolve. So yes, I do believe the 2015 Women’s World Cup-winning team is the best team in history.
SI.com: I don’t want to belabor this, but I was surprised that the fans in the stadium on Wednesday started booing whenever you touched the ball. The Brazilian media tells me this is because of the social media photographs you posted with mosquito-net headgear and some insect repellent on your bed to deal with Zika. You have already said here that you didn’t mean to offend anyone in the host country. Is it a bummer for you that this happened?
Solo: I don’t know if that’s the word I would use. I don’t really know how to explain what happened in the stadium. I’ve played overseas many times. I’ve played in Mexico where I’ve gotten booed quite a bit. I do know the local club here in Belo Horizonte, they tend to boo the opposing teams’ goalkeepers. So it really was no different. And then I found out they were also chanting “Zika!” as well. So I didn’t know that was going on in the game.
I did know they were booing. But it doesn’t affect me. I came here to do one thing, and that’s to help our team win, our country win. And I’m very focused in doing that. Is it a bummer? I wish people would understand that I did my due diligence before coming to Brazil. It was a personal decision I had to make alongside my husband. And it’s not something I just spoke about without getting educated on. It was something very serious to me because I do want to start a family.
The CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and even the World Health Organization came out and said any pregnant women or if you intend to get pregnant anytime soon, we do not advise traveling to Brazil. So it’s not like I just made this up. I listened to the CDC. I listened to the World Health Organization. I spoke to experts, infectious-disease experts, including … full disclosure…
SI.com: Full disclosure: My wife, Celine Gounder, is an infectious-disease doctor in New York. She’s done a lot of global health over the years. I put you guys in touch, and I know that you and your husband [Jerramy Stevens] spoke to my wife for quite a while. I didn’t listen in. I assume it was helpful. What did you learn?
Solo: Well, first off, I’m very grateful for that contact, so thank you. Celine was great. She really just educated us. And I think when everybody heard about Zika at the very beginning there wasn’t enough research done. There wasn’t enough knowledge out there. We didn’t have answers. So I think of course there were many questions to be answered. Nobody knew where to turn. So it took some time before the research became available.
But I was very grateful to speak to Celine. She took her time with us, and she really educated us on the steps that we need to take to make sure that we’re safe. And all we did was take every single one of her recommendations and suggestions, including getting mosquito repellent with a certain amount of DEET. I mean, it’s the simple things, but these simple things go a long way. And as much as I posted a picture with all of the mosquito repellent, I packed all that mosquito repellent, and I do use it every single training session as well as during the games. So I do take this very seriously, and I just wanted to make sure I’m as prepared as possible for anything off the field so that on the field I can just focus on soccer.
SI.com: You’re part of a new documentary video series with Megan Rapinoe and Crystal Dunn that has just been released on the Fullscreen website. There’s some pretty raw, emotional stuff in there, and interesting stuff. What’s the story behind your involvement as a subject and even executive producer?
Solo: I’m very excited about this project. Something like this has never been done in the sports world, and I am the executive producer and am very excited to bring on Megan Rapinoe and Crystal Dunn. I think everybody has a unique individual story. It is very raw. It is very honest, very truthful. And I think sometimes as athletes we’re in a very tough position, because the media needs to do their jobs, and they need to write about whatever issue is popular at that time. But at the same time, they don’t know every single detail that’s going on.
So this is the first time a docu-series is done being told by the athletes. So it is very truthful, very honest, very raw. It’s emotional, and each different athlete has different stories. So it’s pretty cool. I’m very excited about it, and a feather in my cap for being an executive producer for the first time in my life. You can download the Fullscreen app or just go to Fullscreen.com. It’s called “Keeping Score.”
SI.com: You are part of a U.S. players group that filed a wage discrimination complaint against U.S. Soccer this year. Are you going to be vocal about equal pay for equal play during or after this Olympic tournament?
Solo: I know that a lot of us can handle a lot. We can handle the pressure on the field, off the field. But I think for me I just want to focus on winning this tournament. I want to focus on doing something like you said that has never been done before. I think that’s enough pressure for the time being (laughs). I’m very grateful for the Senators back home that are keeping this in the public’s eye and are still speaking and sending letters to the federation about it and making sure people don’t forget about it. Because equal pay is very important to us, but right now we have to focus on the job at hand. We intend to win these Olympics, and then we can go back and continue to push for equal pay.
SI.com: You were one of the driving forces inside the U.S. locker room to push for real change in the way U.S. Soccer treats and pays you guys. What did you say to your teammates to help persuade them to take a harder line publicly?
Solo: I don’t necessarily think it’s about what you say to people. It’s about what you can show them. It’s about the facts that you can show them. It’s about showing them another avenue, another way to operate. And for so long we had operated underneath one attorney, underneath one style of leadership, and it wasn’t about complaining. It wasn’t about saying this attorney isn’t good enough for us, we have to do more. It was showing it. It was bringing new attorneys to the table, letting them ask the proper questions until something kind of clicked in their own minds. You can’t really convince people. They really have to see it for themselves. So all I could really do is show them different opportunities, and hopefully their own intelligence would kind of allow them to see the light.
SI.com: There a lot of things going on with you milestone-wise. You just had your 100th international shutout. You just turned 35. You’re about to have your 200th international cap in this game against France, which is something very few players have done. How long do you want to keep playing at this level?
Solo: I feel great right now, I really do. I keep asking our goalkeeper trainer to be harder on me, push me more. I feel healthier now than I did in last summer’s World Cup, I think because we’re not on turf to be honest. My joints feel better. Everything feels really good right now. I do have a personal life outside of soccer. I’ve been married now for four years. I’m very excited for the next chapter with Jerramy, my husband.
Do I want to come back and play in that World Cup in France [in 2019]? It is going to be a magnificent tournament in France. On grass. Beautiful soccer-specific stadiums. Beautiful soccer fanbase in France, and obviously one of the best teams in the world. Stranger things have happened. Can I make it back? I believe I can do whatever I put my mind to—short of being 40. After 40 maybe not! So I do think it’s possible as long as my commitment level and my mind want to take me in that direction.