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An Honest Look at Our Women's Soccer Heroes
, August 14, 2012
This review is from: Solo: A Memoir of Hope (Kindle Edition)
It's rare to get insight into the dynamics of a team that failed as spectacularly as the 2007 U.S. Women's World Cup team. It's even rarer to learn how a program rights itself like the U.S. did in winning the 2008 Olympic gold medal and beyond. Such dramatic turnarounds don't happen often, and even less often do we get the inside story that Hope Solo tells here. The honest details behind Solo's relationships with her coaches and teammates during this turnaround are the most rewarding part of her autobiography. While I was touched reading about Solo's difficult relationship with her father in her own words, Solo told much of this story to the press already. Solo reveals a lot about her personal life, and many women in their 20s will relate to her boy troubles. I was personally interested in her struggles as an introvert. But what makes Solo unique is her experiences as a lightning rod during a tumultuous transition period between generations of the U.S. women's national team.
The members of the 1999 Women's World Cup have been deservedly lionized by the American media for what they did to grow women's sports in America, but the media has too often failed to recognize that the '99 athletes are human beings, not goddesses. Solo exposes the flaws of the '99ers for all to see. She gives appropriate respect for the '99 team's accomplishments, while also explaining how these veterans later abuse their privilege. The veterans on the 2007 team enable coach Greg Ryan to make the fatal and foolish decision to bench Solo in the World Cup semifinals against Brazil in favor of '99 veteran Briana Scurry, despite Solo having been the starter throughout the World Cup to that point. When Solo stands up for herself after the 4-0 defeat, the petty treatment she receives from the veterans in the ensuing months is shocking.
Those responsible for rebuilding the U.S. women's national team post-2007 get the credit they richly deserve. The turning point in the team's history is the rebuilding of Solo's relationship with star forward Abby Wambach. As Solo explains, Abby initially becomes closer with the older generation than her own, and Abby joins the movement to bench Solo. But when Abby breaks her leg and misses the 2008 Olympics, she writes a deeply personal and inspirational letter to Solo, and the two become pillars of the U.S. team for years to come. Credit also goes to USSF President Sunil Gulati, who kindly reaches out to Solo in the aftermath of the 2007 World Cup, and sweet-hearted coach Pia Sundhage, who changes the culture of the team and allows it to move on from the 2007 incident. Hope's relationship with Pia isn't perfect, but it's a real relationship, and the good in both Pia and Hope shines through here.
Solo was widely criticized for speaking out about her 2007 benching, and many will undoubtedly continue to criticize her for "airing the dirty laundry" about her 2007 teammates in this book. Is there a good reason to write such a tell-all book? I strongly believe history needs to recognize that the 1999 Women's World Cup members were flawed individuals, like all human beings. (Hope Solo included!) My primary criticism of the book is that Solo isn't hard enough on the '99ers for the failure of the 2001-2003 WUSA, the first short-lived pro women's soccer league. Solo does mention how the league blew through five years worth of funding in one year and that the initial players were given lavish perks and travel opportunities. She does not make the explicit connection between the privileged '99 players who enabled her benching and the league's failure. While league investors were ultimately responsible for throwing away WUSA money on perks for the '99ers in 2001, the '99ers have cast themselves as always selflessly making sacrifices for the good of the game. Solo's story of 2007 and the WUSA's excess reveal the myth of the selfless '99ers. What many readers will find shocking in Solo's story is how the women's leagues in both Sweden and France were far more professional than what she experienced with pro women's soccer in the U.S. The recent history of U.S. pro women's soccer is full of missed opportunities, and the failure of the '99ers should be better understood so history does not repeat itself.
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