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Hope Regained

Sept. 01, 2008
Sept. 01, 2008

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Sept. 1, 2008

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Hope Regained

Against the very opponent her former coach thought she couldn't handle, goalkeeper Hope Solo led the underdog U.S. women to gold

MARCUS SOLO wasstill whooping at the television and holding his four-month-old son, Jonathan,last Thursday morning when the phone rang in his Cheney, Wash., home. The U.S.women's soccer team had just upset Brazil 1--0 in the Olympic gold medal match,and now the player of the game—his younger sister, Hope, the U.S.goalkeeper—was calling from the field at Workers' Stadium in Beijing."Marcus, we did it! We just won the [bleeping] gold medal!" Soloscreamed into her cellphone, which she'd hidden in a towel beside her goal."I wasn't expecting her call, so it was pretty neat," says Marcus, whowas in tears on the phone. "It really was a storybook ending."

This is an article from the Sept. 1, 2008 issue

Only 11 monthsearlier Hope Solo had been famously benched before a 4--0 World Cup semifinalloss to Brazil by then coach Greg Ryan, who questioned whether Solo could makereflex saves against the crafty Samba Queens. (Solo was banished from the teamafter criticizing Ryan and her replacement, Briana Scurry.) But in the 72ndminute of a scoreless Olympic final, Solo faced the specter of Marta, thetwo-time World Player of the Year, loading up from the left side of the penaltybox just eight yards away. "I thought for sure it was a goal," Solowould say, recalling that Marta once scored four times on her during a clubgame in Sweden. "I wasn't coming out too hard, because if I bought her fakeshe would school me for sure." Solo waited. Marta fired near-post. And Sololunged to parry the blast with her right forearm—a reflex save for theages.

The U.S.'sunmatched fitness kicked in during extra time, when midfielder Carli Lloyd'slooping 21-yard strike decided a game marked more by tension than virtuosity.(Brazil outplayed the U.S. for the first 65 minutes.) But that hardly means thematch wasn't memorable. The unexpected gold medal capped the greatest on-fieldachievement in the storied history of U.S. women's soccer, given the challengesthe team faced: the absence of forward Abby Wambach, its best player, who brokeher right leg last month; the superior skill of Brazil; the shift from along-ball style to a possession-based attack by first-year coach Pia Sundhage;the constant comparisons with the Mia Hamm--led juggernauts of the past; andthe humbling 2--0 loss to Norway to open the Games.

The 1999 World Cupwill always be the breakthrough moment for U.S. women's soccer, but the 2008Olympics will be remembered as the tournament in which the next generationseized its own world championship in the most difficult of circumstances."I didn't think it was going to be this fairy-tale ending," Solo said."I made a bad decision coming off my line on the first goal in the firstminute of the opening game. But I knew I needed to have a great last game inorder for us to win, and it felt so good to be that impact player."

Whether Solo willjoin her teammates in the new Women's Professional Soccer league next springremains to be seen; she says she might return to Sweden, where Marta and theother top Brazilians play. Yet there's little doubt that Solo, 27, willcontinue playing for the U.S.—and for Sundhage, the Swedish coach who hasemphasized a more skillful style. Sundhage had been on a one-year contractthrough the Olympic year, but at a party for the team and family members afterthe gold medal game, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati took the stage, droppedto one knee and proposed (a contract extension) to Sundhage that will likelyrun through the 2011 World Cup. "We're going to play a brilliant game inthe years to come with Pia as our coach," says Solo. "New players aregoing to come into this team and help us keep possession more, and I thinkwe're going to turn into a Brazil-style team."

Or at least aBrazil-style team that (unlike the two-time Olympic silver medalist) actuallywins when it counts.

PHOTOPhotograph by Bob MartinIN THE CLUTCH After ruling the penalty area and making six saves, Solo got a huge hug from Sundhage.PHOTOPhotograph by Bob Martin[See caption above]