During the FIFA CONCACAF Conference about the 2011 Women’s World Cup, a highlight video was shown featuring the competition’s finest goalkeeping. The centerpiece of the January 2012 presentation in Vancouver was U.S. Women’s National Team keeper Hope Solo, who made countless spectacular saves.
Solo undoubtedly was at the top of her game. She hovered in mid-air to punch or swat away a shot. She showed no fear, leaping into a tangle of airborne players, to snare a long ball or cross. She demonstrated her calm, saving a crucial penalty kick during a shootout in the knockout round.
While the U.S. lost to Japan in the final, Solo reminded the world that it would take an extraordinary effort to place the ball into the back of the net. Not only did she earn Golden Glove honors, but she was awarded the Bronze Ball as the third-best player of the competition.
By the time she retired in 2016, Solo had secured a world championship and two Olympic gold medals. She also won a myriad individual accolades, including another Golden Glove at the 2015 FIFA World Cup.
Solo will receive one more honor on Saturday, May 21, when she will be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, Texas.
“I’ve played with Hope for a very long time,” USWNT teammate Alex Morgan said during the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. “She is one of the best goalkeepers in the world if not the best goalkeeper in the world. She’s proved herself in the last tournament [in 2011] and this tournament.”
Born in Richland, Wash., on July 30, 1981, Solo excelled in soccer early on. When she was 12 years old, Solo wrote a paper for class about what she wanted to be when she grew up. Double-spaced in pencil, written in big letters, she stated her intention to be a professional soccer player.
“I didn’t care that there was no such thing as women’s professional soccer at the time,” she told Newsweek in a 2012 interview.
It may surprise many that Solo did not become a full-time goalkeeper until college. At Richland High School, Solo set several records as a two-time All-American striker. She scored a Big Nine Conference record 109 goals while helping the team win the 1999 Washington state championship.
University of Washington head coach Lesle Gallimore recruited her as a goalkeeper, even though Solo wasn’t convinced that she should switch positions.
“Who do parents put in goal?” Solo said in her Newsweek interview. “The fat kid. The kid who can’t run.”
Gallimore saw something special: “Hope was able to stop shots that most kids her age weren’t. But it was also how she used her feet. The way she moved. She was one of the better athletes I’d ever seen.”
Solo blossomed, finishing with a 1.02 goals-against average and 18 shutouts — both Huskies’ records — over 68 matches in four seasons. She also was named an NSCAA (now United Soccer Coaches) All-American her final three seasons.
In her autobiography Solo: A Memoir of Hope, she credited former U.S. goalkeeper Amy Griffin (nee Allmann), a Washington assistant, and Gallimore with transforming her into a top-flight keeper.
“In high school, I had been the forward who won games. It was a huge mental adjustment to learn that my job was to save games,” Solo wrote in the book. “To anticipate what was needed. Before, I would stand in goal, the ball would come toward me, and I’d use my athletic ability to make the save. But thanks to Amy’s tutelage and my time with the national team, I was becoming a much better tactical goalkeeper. I learned how to read my opponents’ runs toward goal, how to position my defenders, how to see the angles.”
When she called Solo into the USWNT for the first time in 2001, National Soccer Hall of Famer April Heinrichs, then head coach, remarked that Solo had the ingredients to become a top-flight goalkeeper.
“Hope Solo has a tremendous commitment to her physical dimensions,” Heinrichs told Soccer America. “She takes great pride in strength training and keeping fit, measuring her standards against field players’ fitness. She’s a great competitor. She’s the new generation of goalkeeper in this country with her feet, good with her hands, and a good athlete.”
As an 18-year-old freshman at Washington, Solo made her USWNT debut in an 8-0 win over Iceland on April 5, 2000. It was the first of 202 goalkeeper appearances, 153 wins (153-11-27) and 102 shutouts, all U.S. goalkeeping records.
In 2005, Solo became the No. 1. goalkeeper, a position she held for more than a decade. During that span, Solo recorded the USWNT’s longest unbeaten streak: 55 games, from March 7, 2002, to July 16, 2008. She also was U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Female Player of the Year.
After she was benched for the semifinals of the 2007 Women’s World Cup in Shanghai, Solo made a triumphant return to China a year later, backstopping the U.S. to a gold medal in a 1-0 victory over Brazil. She made seven saves.
“I am just enjoying this moment right now,” Solo told reporters. “I feel great. I just won a damn gold medal.”
Added Phil Wheddon, the U.S. goalkeeper coach at the time: “She showed mental toughness. I am very proud of her.”
Three years later. in the Women’s World Cup semifinals in Germany, Solo thwarted the Brazilians again, this time in a quarterfinal shootout. Several minutes prior to the tie-breaker, Solo walked away from her teammates, focusing on her task.
“I was at peace, clear-headed, right where I needed to be,” Solo told The New York Times.
She made Daiane wait before diving to her right to parry away the Brazilian’s attempt. The Americans won the shootout.
“Already hailed as the star keeper in the women’s game, Hope Solo impressively confirmed that standing at the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals in Germany,” FIFA said on its website. “The first-choice U.S. shot-stopper is not only a commanding presence between the sticks, but also boasts outstanding reflexes and calm control of her own penalty area.”
The USWNT and Solo captured another gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Games, but they had to wait three years to win that elusive FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy.
One of her most memorable moments came in the semifinal against Germany in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and she never touched the ball.
In a scoreless encounter in the 59th minute, Germany was awarded a penalty kick. Celia Sasic stepped up to take it while Solo took a little stroll from the net.
“I could actually notice her not feeling as confident stepping up to that,” Carli Lloyd told FOX Sports. “Hope’s little bit of antics was definitely throwing her off.”
Sasic drilled her attempt just wide right, while Solo dived the other way.
Beforehand, Solo had watched every PK attempt that Sakic had taken.
“In videos she walks right up,” she told FOX Sports. “She needs to go right when the ref blows the whistle. That’s part of her routine. So, I just tried to mess up the routine.”
The miss gave the Americans a second wind. Lloyd converted a penalty, and Kelley O'Hara added an insurance goal in a 2-0 victory.
Former USWNT head coach Tony DiCicco, a 2012 National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee who passed away in 2017, marveled at Solo’s performance during the competition.
“Hope is just so athletic, so confident,” he told Newsday. “She has an unbelievable presence.”
Solo also plied her trade with several teams in three U.S. professional leagues: Philadelphia Charge (Women’s United Soccer League), Saint Louis Athletica, Atlanta Beat, magicJack and Seattle Sounders Women (Women’s Professional Soccer) and Seattle Reign FC, now Reign (National Women’s Soccer League). With Reign, Solo set a league record with an impressive 16-game unbeaten streak, going 13-0-3 in the 2013-2014 season.
Off the field, Solo has assumed a role in the fight for women’s rights and gender equality. She also has been a representative of the Women’s Sports Foundation, has donated time and money to the Boys and Girls Club. Solo has been involved with several charity events, including helping raise money at the Chicago Marathon and participating in a snack company’s Game Changers program.
Her post-playing career pursuits also included an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Soccer president in 2018 and a stint as a BBC analyst during the 2019 Women’s World Cup.