If Solo does choose not to return to the Reign this season, that could very well mean the end of the road for one of the most accomplished goalkeepers in the history of soccer.
When word came down on Wednesday evening that Hope Solo had been suspended for six months from the U.S. women’s national team, it was widely assumed that the ban would not affect her ability to play for the Seattle Reign.
Players have been dropped from the USWNT before, after all, and still had U.S. Soccer pick up the tab for their National Women’s Soccer League salaries. There was no mention of a club ban in the federation release announcing Solo’s suspension.
Yet Solo was absent from Reign training on Thursday morning at Memorial Stadium. And while Seattle coach Laura Harvey said part of that was just to give Solo a day to process the news, she was also ambivalent when asked whether the goalkeeper will ever suit up for her club team again.
“I don’t know whether they’re going to keep paying her to play in the league or not,” said Harvey, a will-they-or-won’t-they with significant implications for how the Reign would have to budget their salaries next season. “At this stage, I honestly don’t know how that’s going to work out.”
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Solo has already said that she’s appealing the suspension. With the next major tournament not until 2019, she’s only due to miss a smattering of friendlies in the meantime, anyway.
But if she does choose not to return to the Reign this season, that could very well mean the end of the road for one of the most accomplished goalkeepers in the history of soccer.
“I haven’t spoken to anyone at U.S. Soccer since yesterday,” Harvey said on Thursday morning. “I think the feeling was that she could play, but again, I haven’t spoken to anyone individually to know that that’s truly the case.
“I think it’s a complicated one, if I’m honest. I’m not sure it’s as cut and dry as maybe we all think.”
Part of the complication is simply emotional fallout.
Solo has been representing her country at the international level since 2000 – 1996 if you include youth teams, too. The Richland native, just a few months ago, became the first goalkeeper, male or female, to post 100 shutouts while playing for their national team.
As far removed as it might feel right now – in the aftermath of the their quarterfinal exit at the Olympics and Solo’s “cowards” comment that U.S. Soccer used as part of the justification for her ban – the USWNT was at this time last year still celebrating their first World Cup title in 16 years.
Now, at 35 years old and three summers removed from the next Women’s World Cup, Solo is dealing with the increasingly likely realization that she might never play on the global stage again.
“It’s about someone’s livelihood,” Harvey said. “It’s about their career. Irrelevant of what the decision is and who made the decision, it’s somebody’s life and somebody’s career.
“As a human being, getting the information that Hope got yesterday, I’m sure it was devastating for her. I’m trying to be mindful of that more than anything.”
On the surface, it seems silly to even suggest that a national-team suspension could carry over into club play. But much about this situation already defies convention – United States coach Jill Ellis could have just stopped calling Solo into camp in the way most every other international career comes to an end.
Solo’s state of limbo provides a window into the strange dynamic between the NWSL and national federations.
Players who represent their national teams have their club salaries covered by their respective federations, resulting in a tenuous power dynamic. Harvey says she’s never even seen either of Solo or Megan Rapinoe’s contracts.
Solo is getting paid three months of severance from U.S. Soccer, as first reported by FourFourTwo. But what happens beyond that is as open a question as everything else .
“It’s always something that throughout these four seasons has been hard to get your head around a little bit,” Harvey said. “…. I don’t feel like I’m in a position to tell them what to do. The relationships I’ve forged with Megan and Hope has meant that we’ve got ourselves in a position where they’ve committed massively to the club. We obviously hope that still stays the same.”
Solo is probably unlikely to return to game action as soon as Saturday’s home match against rival Portland, Harvey concedes.
Will Solo ever pull on her gloves again, either for the USWNT or the Reign? Or could this really be the anticlimactic end?
“I don’t know,” Harvey said. “This is life-changing for her. We’re all very mindful of that. We’re very conscious that we want to have conversations with her privately about what this means to her and what she’s thinking before we even think about what that might mean for us in the long term.”