I want to know what Jill Ellis and Hope Solo think about Solo’s future with the U.S. women’s national team.
Do they think Solo, 35, has a shot at making the U.S. roster for the next meaningful competition, the 2019 World Cup, in three years? Or is Solo done for good with the national team?
Ellis, the World Cup-winning U.S. coach, has yet to say a word publicly about Solo in the 13 days since the U.S. goalkeeper called the Swedish team “cowards” after Sweden used a defense-minded strategy to eliminate the U.S. in the Olympic quarterfinals.
On Wednesday, U.S. Soccer suspended Solo for six months and told her it was terminating her contract in response to those comments and an accumulation of offenses over the years. But while Ellis and U.S. Soccer general secretary Dan Flynn traveled all the way to Seattle to deliver the news to Solo—Ellis lives in the Miami area—the U.S. coach’s words didn’t appear anywhere in U.S. Soccer’s press release announcing the suspension.
Whatever you think about U.S. Soccer’s punishment—and I’ll get to my thoughts below—I want to hear from Ellis: As the U.S. coach with a long-term contract, does she think Solo potentially has a future with the U.S. team that could extend to the 2019 World Cup? Is Ellis waiting to see how Solo responds to this punishment before she decides? Or does the suspension make it a fait accompli that Solo is done for good internationally?
As the head coach and player selector, Ellis is the only person who can answer those questions, and we haven’t heard from her yet. And what about Solo? Does she still want to try to play in 2019, as she indicated at the start of the Olympics? If she doesn’t after the latest developments, her international career might be better off ending now anyway to give Ellis the time to groom a replacement goalkeeper. In her statement on Wednesday, Solo did speak in the past tense about her U.S. career, but she also said she had more to give.
For me, whether Solo has a future with the national team is more important than the suspension itself.
At first, Solo's punishment comes off as harsh. A six-month suspension and a terminated national team contract for calling opponents “cowards”? But when you break it down, it’s not actually that harsh. The six-month suspension only applies to four, maybe six, meaningless U.S. friendlies. And while terminating Solo’s national team contract sounds severe, keep in mind two things: 1) U.S. Soccer is giving Solo three months severance, and 2) the contract for every U.S. national team player terminates on December 31 when the collective bargaining agreement ends.
That means Solo is essentially suspended without pay for three months—November 24 to February 24—from the national team. But she’s still allowed to play for and earn money from her club team, the NWSL’s Seattle Reign, during these six months. And if Ellis is interested and a new CBA is in place, Solo is still able to be offered a new contract with U.S. Soccer starting February 24. (One confusing aspect: U.S. Soccer pays Solo and other national team players for their NWSL play in addition to their national team play. While the national team part of Solo’s contract with U.S. Soccer has been terminated, the NWSL part has not.)
Rich Nichols, the U.S. women’s players union executive director, said Solo would appeal U.S. Soccer’s decision and that U.S. Soccer had violated Solo’s First Amendment rights. But the First Amendment doesn’t apply here, since the U.S. government isn’t involved.
Why couldn’t U.S. Soccer have simply suspended Solo for six months and left out the contract termination (which U.S. Soccer didn’t include in its press release Wednesday)? Beats me. This is speculation, but I do wonder if U.S. Soccer is trying to prevent Solo from having an outsized influence in the CBA negotiations that are soon to resume.
Solo is one of five U.S. players—along with Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn—on the wage-discrimination complaint filed against U.S. Soccer with the EEOC. And behind the scenes Solo has been more influential than any U.S. player in pushing to fight U.S. Soccer for equal pay with the U.S. men’s team. Still, Solo’s suspension and contract termination don’t necessarily prevent her from taking part in CBA talks.
For its part, U.S. Soccer has been adamant that its punishment for Solo isn’t just for the “cowards” comments but rather is for an accumulation of offenses over the years. (If, say, Mallory Pugh had called the Swedes cowards, she wouldn’t have been suspended for six months.) The federation specifically cited the one-month suspension Solo received early last year after she and her husband, Jerramy Stevens, were stopped by police in a U.S. team van in Los Angeles. Stevens, who was driving, was charged with DUI and spent three days in jail.
U.S. Soccer did not cite the still-open Seattle case involving a 2014 altercation between Solo, her nephew and her half-sister in which Solo was charged. The charge has been described in different ways, from a “fourth-degree misdemeanor” in which the facts were in dispute (used by U.S. Soccer in deciding not to suspend Solo at the time) to something allegedly more violent in a 2015 ESPN story.
What’s inescapable is that U.S. Soccer gave Solo shorter (or no) punishments when important World Cup games were near and a lengthier one this week when big games are much farther away.
Calling the Swedes “cowards” was a poor choice of words by Solo, who has not apologized, but I also thought about it more over the past two weeks. Would Manchester United manager José Mourinho have been vilified as much as Solo for saying the same thing? Not at all, which makes you think there’s some kind of double standard here, perhaps related to gender. Then again, has the U.S. women’s soccer team taken advantage of that double standard as well over the years, with part of their popularity coming from being known as a classy team and a breath of fresh air in the sports world?
Well, yes, that’s true too.
I also learned firsthand in Brazil how over-the-top the Internet Outrage Machine can really be. Solo tagged me on a Twitter post about the situation, and for the next four days my Twitter mentions were filled with angry and often obscene responses denouncing Solo in some of the most vile ways imaginable. It’s possible to think she made a mistake while also believing that the Internet response is completely out of proportion to what it should it be.
On the field, Solo had an up-and-down Olympics. She was fantastic against France and poor against Colombia. But she’s still the U.S.’s top goalkeeper, perhaps with less of a gap than before between her and the second-best. Will that be the case in 2019? And how does Jill Ellis balance that evaluation with the risk of more off-field controversy?
The decision on Solo’s national team future will come down to Ellis and to Solo herself. And we don’t know where they stand on that now.