U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo’s social media commentary earned her the wrath of Brazilians before she arrived in Rio. She dug a much deeper hole for herself Friday by insulting the Swedish team that had just bounced the heavily favored Americans from the tournament in a penalty shootout.
“I’m very proud of this team. But I also think we played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today. I think you saw American heart. You saw us give everything we had today,” she told reporters. “Sweden dropped off. They didn’t want to open play. They didn’t want to pass the ball. They didn’t want to play great soccer.”
“I don’t think they’re going to make it far in the tournament,” she added. “I think it was very cowardly.”
The backlash was swift and fierce.
Like this, from former U.S. men’s team star Alexi Lalas:
And this from sportswriter Christine Brennan, who is referring to a separate incident of alleged domestic violence:
From start to finish, the entire quarterfinal game was a close, tough match. And it did have an edge because Sweden is coached by Pia Sundhage — the same woman who coached the U.S. team to gold at the 2012 Olympics.
So Sundhage, a Swede, knew how to approach the talented American squad, which still has many of the same players from four years ago, including Solo.
Sundhage’s approach was conservative and defensive, not the aggressive, wide-open style the Americans would have preferred. But that’s often how underdogs play. And it worked.
Sweden’s Stina Blackstenius scored on a breakaway, firing a shot past Solo for a 1-0 lead in the 61th minute. American star Alex Morgan tied the game in the 78th minute and that’s how it ended in regulation.
The two sides then played 30 scoreless minutes of overtime, followed by a penalty shootout. Sweden put four of its five shots past Solo, while the Americans could only manage to three scores against Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahal.
So the Americans are out, heading home for the first time without a medal since women’s soccer became an Olympic sport in 1996. The American had won gold four times previously and silver once.
The deeply disappointing performance may be defined as much by Solo’s remarks as the team’s play.
Before arriving she tweeted glibly about the Zika virus in Brazil. That led crowds in Brazil to chant, “Zika, Zika,” every time she touched the ball in matches.
The Americans won their first two games, but tied Colombia, 2-2, when Solo gave up a goal on a shot she would stop, more often than not. The Americans still advanced to quarterfinal play on Friday in the capital Brasilia, but they met their match in Sweden.
One person who wasn’t bothered by Solo’s remarks was Sundhage, the Swedish coach.
“It’s O.K. to be a coward if you win,” she said. “They played more attacking football than we did. We defended very well.”