Thursday, August 9, 2012

With All Due Respect, Hope Solo Gets Save for U.S. Women

When the clock finally expired, Hope Solo met her teammates at midfield for a group hug, then leaped in the air and wrapped herself in the American flag. The U.S. goalkeeping star wasn’t always a genuine sweetheart, or wasn’t always a quiet girl. And suddenly Solo, now an Olympic champion at Wembley Stadium, London’s most prestigious sporting venue, is humbled and meek, finally a winner in the Summer Games.

At best she’s not egomaniacal and not bombastic, growing as a person each day and curtailing her arrogant and defiant personality. Humility is helping her grow as a person. Gracefulness is helping her appreciate life better. The heroine of American soccer — a blowhard, a boaster and a loudmouth – was cocky and bitter in a sense, becoming a lightning rod as a well-known American sporting icon. But now, she has a gold medal hanging from her neck and backed up her talk with a diving save on Japanese forward Mana Iwabuchi in the 83rd minute to preserve a 2-1 victory over Japan on Thursday night in the Olympic gold-medal game. So, amid the doubts and unnecessary talk, Solo played the role of a goddess, and not an annoying prima donna who made headlines for arrogantly lashing out at Brandi Chastain on Twitter following her comments about the current’s team defense at the start of the tournament.

In defense, Solo was immature and mishandled the situation with a lack of class and no respect, childishly ranting her displeasure and rage with her big mouth and reckless tweets, allowing her emotions to get the best of her when remarks seem offensive. It shouldn’t be so shocking that Solo is overly sensitive and deciphers things wrongly, or takes unfavorable judgment too personal and doesn’t keep her cool. It’s been seen too often, but what’s also been impressive lately is her marvelous defensive play, leadership and maturity, stepping up at the right time to finally realize her responsibilities were extremely important for the Americans to beat Japan.

While the U.S. team pressed on throughout the tournament, Solo matured as a person, she was more gracious and cordial, handling her task as a goalkeeper, the most difficult position in soccer in which protecting the net is key. If it all looks unreal for the most polarizing athlete of all women — especially in these summer games — where she’s an angel or embattled because of her pompous comments, well, it’s as real as it gets. Solo is not someone you’d like to marry, but she’s very athletic and is the most recognizable female goalie in her country. For those who are not familiar with Solo — perhaps the best female goalie to ever play — she’s a winner and proved it when she rose to the occasion and was stout for much of the night.

This is her moment to laugh, and then years and years from now she can reminisce about the yesteryears with her kids, and tell her story about wrapping herself in the country’s flag. Years from now, Solo can share portraits of the moment she and her teammates stood in line with gold medals around their necks. This, of course, was an exhilarating and special day when she celebrated and soaked in a wonderful moment with her teammates. It’s one victory that might have signified vindication and mounted Solo’s status in U.S. women’s soccer, when she had a stellar performance after underachieving throughout the tournament.

At the right time, she came up big in the crucial moments, basically the justification for Americans coming away with a redemptive victory over their foes from Japan. The craziest, nastiest, bad-tempered woman turned into a score-stopping machine, stopping 12 of 13 shots she encountered that could have been game-changing plays had the Japanese converted goal-scoring opportunities. If not for her, the Americans could have lost for a second time to Japan, who defeated the United States in the World Cup last year. It came down to Solo stretching out her body, extending her arms and diving to amazingly fend off a missile shot. There surely is no way she will change her demeanor or personality, and she represents her country so proudly that she’ll always have a fiery and snobbish attitude, although she stands by America and gives us a bad name with her actions.

It’s in her nature and she’s molded in a sense to conduct herself in such a way that we should realize who she truly is by now, as we’ve all known Solo so well. If I had to choose the most noteworthy athlete to play goalkeeper for the U.S. soccer team, the first person who’d come to mind is Solo, even though she’s quite smug about being the star of the sport, thinking highly of herself as if she’s the best soccer star ever in the land of the USA. That sense of mannerism is irritating and annoying, but as we all know, winning is a cure to humanity. So once an athlete wins, particularly a medal for its country, everything turns irrelevant. Solo is, in her own way, a witness to that, no doubt. She can irritate and peeve our senses, and then carry the weight of expectations on her shoulders. There wasn’t a better time to come along and become a shutdown goalkeeper, coming through when it matters the most.

And Team USA? It was redemption and relief for the U.S women’s soccer team, erasing the heartbreaking blow in the World Cup championship game. The victory gave the Americans a third consecutive Olympic title, with a pair of spectacular goals from Carli Lloyd, who scored both goals including the gold-medal winning goal. And this wasn’t a time Solo blew it, or a time she couldn’t defend the net and instead came on strong for Team USA. Without Hope, the Americans had no chance to survive. The reality is, she wanted it badly, and within reach of her stated goal, Solo was huge in stretches of the game. Such was when she leaped in the air and deflected the ball with her fingertips on a header by Yuki Ogimi in the 18th minute.

A mountain of failures in the past brought her to reality, and she indeed responded, on the biggest stage in front of 80,203 roaring fans at London’s cathedral. The largest crowd ever attended to watch a women’s soccer game, and surely Solo had the game of her striking career. Spectators also saw Abby Wambach move toward becoming one of the all-time U.S. greats.

Solo, though, was given her chance to prove she can play.

If there were one thing we can take away from this miraculous Olympic games, it would be her goal-saving stops that led to American gold.