Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Chang [Print without images]

Friday, September 28, 2007
The Solo fallout


By now just about everybody has probably heard Hope Solo's scathing postgame comments rebuking coach Greg Ryan for his decision to bench her (despite the U.S. press officer's best attempts to stop her).

For the record, I believe Solo's absolutely right in the content of what she says, and I support her right to publicly criticize Ryan for what was an incredibly egregious decision. However, she went too far when she also brought Briana Scurry into the mix (deliberately or inadvertently, I think it's unclear) -- even her teammates who supported her cause probably feel that attacking another teammate is going over the line.

For her outburst, Solo's been painted as another example of the me-first selfish athlete generation, but there is an important distinction to be made and a mitigating factor in her case. Most of those athletes, Terrell Owens being a good example, made their comments in the context of losing or even winning efforts where they felt they "didn't get the ball enough", or were benched for poor performance, or simply weren't starting to begin with and merely complaining about playing time. It's very rare to find a situation in pro sports where a recognized starter is playing well and is benched on a whim.

It'd be the equivalent of quarterback Alex Smith leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship game this year and then being replaced by veteran backup Trent Dilfer two days before the game because Dilfer had a better career record against, say the Bears. Bear in mind that Scurry herself also made similar comments at the last Olympics, when talking about a prior benching in favor of Siri Mullinix -- the key difference of course being she did it four years later, but the sentiment is still the same, so you can see where Solo is coming from.

Anyway, moving on from Solo's comments, the bigger question at this point is who's going to start for the U.S. in the third-place game against Norway on Sunday (5 a.m. ET, ESPN2). Obviously if Solo starts the game, it would indicate that a reconciliation has taken place between her and Ryan and steps towards healing team unity has begun. Is this going to happen? I think it's unlikely, at least in the short term. Ryan's been giving mixed signals the last two days. He's talked about the possibility, "Obviously there's always opportunities for reconciliation. This has only just happened. We'll work to try to get past this hurdle."

However, at the same time he's made it clear that he thinks Solo was wrong to speak publicly on the situation and has talked about how bountiful the crop of young talent is at goalkeeper for the U.S. -- surely dropping a hint to Solo in that regard.

That said, assuming Ryan is still going to be coach going forward for the Olympics (and I don't think he should be), he can't rule out the possibility of having Solo on the team, especially if she proves she's the best at her position and even more so if her teammates forgive her outburst.

Ryan's in a difficult spot. If he arbitrarily chooses to start Scurry again against Norway, I think he sends the wrong message to Solo -- it comes across as a petty heavy-handed punishment for a player, who while wrong in her delivery on the subject, probably echoed the sentiments of many of the squad. On the other hand, if he starts Solo (assuming she doesn't deliver a formal apology beforehand) -- he's basically ceding a degree of authority as coach and condoning Solo's challenging of him and denigration of Scurry.

The solution? Start the third-string keeper Nicole Barnhart against Norway. First of all it's a neutral stance, showing favoritism to neither Scurry or Solo, and you can sell it as 'grooming' Barnhart for the future and getting her some valuable game experience. Secondly, it's the third-place game, and in the context of World Cups, it's basically a meaningless game and the actual result, win or lose, has no real bearing on the future of the U.S. women.