U.S. Soccer calls Hope Solo comments at Rio Games 'unacceptable'
Goalkeeper Hope Solo has been suspended six months from the national team for what U.S. Soccer called "conduct that is counter to the organization's principles."
After the United States was eliminated from the Rio Olympics earlier this month in a penalty shootout, the 35-year-old Solo criticized the winning Sweden team, calling it "a bunch of cowards."
"The comments by Hope Solo after the match against Sweden during the 2016 Olympics were unacceptable and do not meet the standard of conduct we require from our National Team players," U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said in a statement Wednesday. "Beyond the athletic arena, and beyond the results, the Olympics celebrate and represent the ideals of fair play and respect. We expect all of our representatives to honor those principles, with no exceptions.
"Taking into consideration the past incidents involving Hope, as well as the private conversations we've had requiring her to conduct herself in a manner befitting a U.S. National Team member, U.S. Soccer determined this is the appropriate disciplinary action."
U.S. Soccer also terminated Solo's contract when it handed down the suspension, which is effective immediately. She will be eligible to sign a new contract with the national team in February.
Solo was previously suspended for 30 days early in 2015 for conduct related to an incident at the team's training camp.
"For 17 years, I dedicated my life to the U.S. Women's National Team and did the job of a pro athlete the only way I knew how -- with passion, tenacity, an unrelenting commitment to be the best goalkeeper in the world, not just for my country but to elevate the sport for the next generation of female athletes," Solo said in a statement. "In those commitments, I have never wavered. And with so much more to give, I am saddened by the Federation's decision to terminate my contract.
"I could not be the player I am without being the person I am, even when I haven't made the best choices or said the right things. My entire career, I have only wanted the best for this team, for the players and the women's game, and I will continue to pursue these causes with the same unrelenting passion with which I play the game."
Richard Nichols, the executive director of the USWNT Players Association, said the union will file an appeal on Solo's behalf.
"Given the cited conduct and alleged policy violation, we believe the proposed discipline to be excessive, unprecedented, disproportionate and a violation of Ms. Solo's First Amendment rights," Nichols said. "We also question whether this action would ever have been taken against a male player or coach, who, in the heated moments after a frustrating defeat, questioned the tactics of the opposing team. Needless to say, we will file an appeal on Ms. Solo's behalf."
The U.S. Olympic team dominated possession against Sweden in the quarterfinal match in Rio and finished with 27 shots, but Sweden scored on a counterattack in regulation -- one of only two shots on goal it had in the game. After playing to a 1-1 stalemate over 120 minutes, Sweden edged the U.S. 4-3 in the shootout.
Solo didn't hold back in her comments afterward.
"I thought that we played a courageous game," Solo said. "I thought that we had many opportunities on goal. I think we showed a lot of heart. We came back from a goal down. I'm very proud of this team.
"I also think we played a bunch of cowards. But, you know, the best team did not win today. I strongly, firmly believe that. I think you saw America's heart. You saw us give everything that we had today. Unfortunately, the better team didn't win."
Sweden coach Pia Sundhage, who had coached the U.S. team to gold medals during the Beijing and London Games, replied by saying: "It's OK to be a coward if you win.''
Solo was a lightning rod during the Olympic tournament, irking fans in Brazil when she posted a photo of herself covered with mosquito netting and armed with insect repellent on social media. Fans booed her mercilessly and hollered "Zika!'' each time she kicked downfield. Then she caused a stir with her "cowards" comment.
Solo has made headlines throughout her career. She has vocally advocated for women's rights. Solo was among the U.S. players who filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for wage discrimination, saying the men's national team players have been paid much more than many on the women's team, which for years has outperformed the U.S. men on the international stage.
More recently, she has called for better conditions for players in the National Women's Soccer League.
She has also been trying to avoid a trial on misdemeanor domestic violence charges after a 2014 incident at her sister's home, when the goalkeeper was accused of being intoxicated and assaulting her sister and then-17-year-old nephew. Solo said she was a victim in the altercation.
Earlier this year, an appeals court in Washington state rejected Solo's request to avoid trial.
Solo currently is playing for the Seattle Reign of the NWSL. They resume their season Saturday.
Alyssa Naeher is the only other goalie currently on the USWNT roster.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.