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Solo the only doubt ahead of qualifying game against Costa Rica


VANCOUVER -- When a team has beaten another team in all seven meetings by an aggregate score of 34-0, is there anything to be worried about?

The U.S. women's soccer team insists that there is in their showdown tonight against Costa Rica at BC Place. Winner goes to the London Olympics. Loser gets a chance to have one more Tim Hortons donut before leaving town.

The slim bit of intrigue coming into tonight's game stems from Hope Solo. Pretty much anything Solo does these days makes news and the fact that she was grimacing and grabbing her quad against Mexico on Tuesday night turned her into a worldwide trending topic on Twitter.

Solo -- the best women's goalkeeper in the world -- has a pulled quad muscle, suffered in practice a few days earlier.

Will she play tonight? It will likely be a game-time decision.

"Honestly, we have to do what's best for team," Solo said. "This isn't a friendly. We only get three subs and nobody wants to waste a sub on a goalkeeper when we need to get players minutes. Pia has to make smart decisions."

If it were her decision, would she play?

"Of course," she said. "Silly question."

Can you connect the dots between Solo's injury and her autumn stint on Dancing With the Stars? Did strapping on heels and doing the tango with Maksim Chmerkovsky two months ago lead to a pulled quad in Vancouver, as some reports have suggested?

Dancing With The Stars is the kind of opportunity a lot of athletes get after a breakthrough performance, like the kind the women's soccer team had in Germany last summer. But for a women's soccer player -- operating under a compressed schedule every three years -- any post-World Cup opportunity comes with the knowledge that the Olympics are right around the corner.

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Solo was planning to take a break from soccer after the World Cup. In September of 2010, she had surgery to repair what might have been a career-ending shoulder injury, just nine months before the Germany World Cup, and worked furiously to be ready to play. After returning from Germany, she wanted to take some time off the soccer field.

Then along came Dancing With the Stars. Solo did well on the reality show, lasting until the final group of four contestants and staying on the show until early November. In terms of national team commitments, she missed two "celebration tour" games against Canada in September and a friendly against Sweden. She was staying fit -- sore and exhausted after rigorous dance workouts -- but it was a different kind of fitness.

Her coach was just happy she didn't snap an ankle.

"I was scared," Pia Sundhage said this week. "High heels? It was obviously fun for her and a lot of attention to the goalkeeper of the national team. But honestly, I was scared."

At training camp in Southern California in December, Solo was doing extra work to get back into soccer shape. But then her beloved grandfather died and she had to leave camp early to be with her family.

That was where any setback in her schedule occurred, though it's easier to blame rubbing elbows with the Kardashians than personal matters. Since the team reconvened after the holidays, Solo has been doing extra work, even on game days.

"I've been putting in extra fitness and extra weight sessions in an effort to get back to where I was before my shoulder surgery," Solo said. "I've been pushing my body to the limit. In the World Cup I wasn't at my best -- I was so focused on my shoulder. Now it's time to get my entire game back to be at my best."

This week she's been undergoing acupuncture and other treatments to get ready to play tonight. If Sundhage decides to hold out Solo, backup goalie Nicole Barnhart would get the start.

Should the U.S. team be worried about a team that's never beaten them?

After last summer's loss to Japan in the World Cup final, the U.S. team knows not to take anything for granted.

"Japan had never beaten us before the World Cup game," said team captain Christie Pearce.

"This is an opponent you have to respect. They're in our way to the Olympic dream."