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For U.S. women's soccer team, it was a game of Hope

BEIJING — Once again, Hope Solo was alone.

This time, the moment felt golden.

The game was over now, and the vindication was complete, and the blond goalkeeper bounded across the damp turf of Workers' Stadium like a girl at play.

One after another, she had embraced all the teammates who had once shunned her, but now it was time for a solitary moment for the woman named Solo.

And so she sprinted away from her teammates, toward the goalkeeper's box to her left. There was a fake gold medal around her neck — the real one was to come — and another in her hand. She shot her arms into the air once more. And then she dialed her cell phone to talk to her brother Marcus.

"We just won the damn gold medal," she said. "We won the bleep-bleep-bleep gold medal."

In so many ways, this was the perfect final scene of the story of the imperfect goalkeeper. Her teammates stood half a field away. Her Brazilian opponents were sprawled across the grass wondering how they had lost a 1-0 overtime game to the Americans for the women's soccer gold.

And Solo? Even Solo wondered how this whole crazy story had come to such a magnificent ending.

She was the player who could not keep her mouth shut, remember? She was the keeper who ripped her coach after he benched her for another big game against Brazil. She was the teammate who was banished by her teammates afterward.

Now, she was the goaltender who had shut out the wonderful Brazilians for two hours' worth of play. She was the player who had stopped the electric Cristiane and who had stoned the magical Marta. The feelings poured over her, joy and excitement and, yes, a touch of disbelief.

"I couldn't believe it," Solo said later. "Honestly, it was unreal to me. You hear those words all the time, but I really couldn't fathom it. It was too … perfect.

"It's like a storybook ending. It's something you see in Hollywood or in fairy tales. Yet, it was playing out. My life doesn't play out like that all the time, you know."

By now, everyone knows. It was only 11 months ago when Solo was upset over being benched for veteran U.S. goalie Briana Scurry before a World Cup game against Brazil. The Americans lost that game 4-0, and afterward Solo criticized then-coach Greg Ryan and Scurry. Her teammates, feeling she had gone too far, refused to let her join them for team meals. She flew back from China on her own.

Right about the time the game ended, didn't you have to wonder if Ryan was watching? Scurry?

"It was hell," Solo said. "I've been through hell. To say one gold medal makes up for all of the pain in the world … that's just fake. But, yeah, it completes the journey."

Looking back, perhaps Ryan was the one in the wrong. Solo had been playing well at the time, and if Thursday's game was any indication, she doesn't seem as impressed as the rest of the world with the acrobatic Brazilian front line.

Looking back, maybe the rest of the United States could have been a bit more understanding. Yeah, Solo is a different cut of cloth from a lot of players, but as she said, her life hasn't always gone right.

Shortly before the World Cup, Solo's father, Jeffery, had died. They had a close but unusual relationship. Others referred to Jeffery as homeless, but Solo prefers to say he chose to live in the woods. She has talked of making him macaroni and cheese, and meeting him for lunch.

After her father died, she took to scattering his ashes in the goal box before World Cup games. Suddenly, she was being pulled out of that goal box. How could she not be upset?

In some ways, however, perhaps this gold medal was forged in those moments. Ryan was soon replaced as coach by Pia Sundhage, who put two questions to her team.

"Do you want to win?" she said.

"Yes."

"Do you think you need good goaltending to win?" she said.

"Yes."

Slowly, the scars began to disappear. Oh, Solo admits she isn't one of those players who wants to sing duets with every teammate. Even the notion of putting two fake gold medals in her bag in order to celebrate later seems like a different sort of vibe from her teammates.

On the other hand, Solo was pretty impressive. There was the play where she tunneled under Cristiane in the first half, sending the Brazilian cartwheeling over her. There was the point-blank shot Marta had that looked so true that Brazil coach Jorge Barcellos said he was "preparing to commemorate."

Oh, it wasn't all Solo. The Americans' defense played well, and Carli Lloyd scored in the sixth minute of overtime.

Still, there are moments to talk about the team, and moments to go Solo.

And as the keeper in the green shirt loped around the stadium, it was hard not to see this as the moment of ultimate Hope.

For U.S. women's soccer team, it was a game of Hope 08/21/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 22, 2008 6:57am]
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