For those familiar with the past decade of US women’s soccer history, the news that the former national team goalkeeper, Hope Solo, was running for the US Soccer presidency was surprising to say the least. Even though the appeal of a supposedly anti-establishment figure taking power is not an unfamiliar idea in politics, Hope Solo wasn’t just anti-establishment. She presented frequent controversies that US Soccer continually dealt with until eventually, they revoked her contract. They are not on good terms. Moreover, the US Soccer leadership is not exactly regular politics.
The questions that arose in the aftermath of Solo’s announcement were numerous, but centred around one common theme: how much of a chance does she really stand? Surely, some reasoned, it was all too out of left-field to become reality. I wish I did not have to point this out on a football blog, but I feel I must; these are concepts we have discussed before, and recently. Despite how surprising Solo’s decision might seem, we should explore what it could mean for US Soccer, because it has set up a very intriguing scenario indeed.
First, some necessary background.
The US Soccer Presidential Elections
The incumbent President Sunil Gulati, who has held the position since 2006, announced recently that he would not be running. This was influenced, in large part, by the capitulation of the men’s national side, who failed to qualify for the World Cup because they could not beat or draw Trinidad & Tobago. The result raised questions about the current system and leadership, and what the world’s most well-resourced nation was doing so wrong.
The elections will be held in February of next year. A number of candidates have declared their intentions to run so far. They include two lawyers, several former professionals including Eric Wynalda, Kyle Martino, and Hope Solo herself, as well as a few well-known football administrators.
The History of Hope Solo vs US Soccer
Hope Solo was a prodigious talent on the field. She was a member of the USWNT in 2000 and the first choice keeper by 2005. She is noted for her athleticism. Commentators often stated that Solo made saves that no one else in the women’s game was physically capable of making.
Her ability helped her navigate the first few controversies with US Soccer. In the 2007 World Cup, the US were unceremoniously eliminated by Brazil in the semi-finals. In a post-match interview, Solo blamed her coach’s bizarre decision to bench her and play Briana Scurry, who would soon retire, stating that Scurry made several errors that led to goals and saying, “I would have made those saves”.
The Federation was angered by the public attack on a teammate. Although Solo was named to the post tournament tour, she did not play. She was then, however, named as the first choice keeper for the 2008 Games as US Soccer seemed to move on. Then in 2012, controversy struck again when she was cautioned by the Anti-Doping Committee. In 2015 and 2016, whilst domestic abuse charges and a court case distracted from her performances to some degree, Solo won the World Cup and reached 100 clean-sheets. The Federation was criticised by some for allowing her to continue to play whilst under investigation, but stood by their keeper.
Her luck with US Soccer ran out when she called Sweden “cowards” for their defensive tactics which led to a 1-0 victory, eliminating the US from the Rio Olympics at just the quarter final stage. The Federation terminated her contract following the outburst and, when criticised, cited old incidents as having influenced their decision. Solo was outraged. Her relationship with US Soccer was completely fractured.
So you see why many were surprised when, a few days ago, Hope Solo posted the following message on her social media accounts.
In it she states that the “pay to play” youth system is broken, and that it affected her own childhood playing career. She cites how her club and coaches used to fundraise for her to allow her to play in state teams and travel to tournaments. Solo says, however, that she was one of the lucky ones and she’s right. Many talented kids simply slip through the gaps because they cannot afford to play in the elite teams that provide the pathway to the top of the game.
I have my own opinions about Solo’s career, many of which are founded in my profound distaste for poor sportsmanship, but I am largely in agreement with the points she made in her statement. Like Solo, I believe that the youth system is irreparably flawed and a root cause of the struggles of the national team. In my opinion, it is ridiculous that a country that built its national identity on the promise of opportunity should allow socioeconomic divides to permeate the field of sport.
If Solo wins, there would be potential benefits. As she herself mentions, she has experienced what it is to be a player. She knows, therefore, what the players look for from the leadership. She also seems to have identified key issues facing US Soccer. I should mention, however, that she is not the only one to have done so.
Most of the candidates are aware that the youth system should be considered for reform. They know that the US are under-performing. Solo is not differentiated from the pack by these theories. Whilst she has something of a point of difference as the only female ex-professional, her biggest defining factor may well be her history with the governing body. It seems fantastical that someone who was, essentially, the number one headache for the federation for a decade should then take over said federation. I think there is a valid argument that Solo’s integrity was severely damaged over the course of her career, and that her treatment of her role as a representative of US Soccer is detrimental to her campaign. However, I will not claim to be impartial. I struggle to favour a President Hope Solo. Yet, one cannot rule out that she could be the best thing to happen to the federation.
US Soccer is a shambles right now. Sometimes, someone who is anti-establishment is best placed to see the big issues and make the hard decisions to fix them. Solo’s experiences in her career may well help her govern. It would undoubtedly mean very good things for pay equality for the women’s side, as well as for their treatment in general. But has Solo burned too many bridges? Or, could she become the unlikely solution to US Soccer’s ever-growing myriad of problems?
History doesn’t repeat, but it instructs, and we would be wise not to rule either scenario out. The US Soccer Elections just became a whole lot more interesting.
NB: I purposefully ignored all the potential Hope Solo puns for the title.
A lover of the game since the age of 4. Living and playing for club and school in Auckland and loving every second on the pitch (apart from the end of a losing match).