WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Jill Ellis is one of those managers who projects -- outwardly at least -- a calm demeanor. But after watching Hope Solo's game-changing performance in the U.S. national team's 3-1 win over Australia, Ellis couldn't contain herself.
"I hugged [Solo] afterward. 'You get a hug tonight,'" Ellis said. "She was tremendous."
Indeed, especially in the game's first 15 minutes, when Australia came out firing and looked to be in position to go ahead in the teams' Women's World Cup opener. Just five minutes into the match Solo pushed a long-range blast from Emily van Egmond onto the bar.
"I actually thought it was going to hit my gloves and still hit the net," she said. "I was more relieved than anything."
Fortunately for the United States, Solo wasn't done. She produced an outstanding reaction save eight minutes later, touching away Sam Kerr's volley with her left hand. Later in the half, Solo snared a free kick from Servet Uzunlar that was a tougher save than it looked given that an Australia attacker was inches away from getting a touch.
Two-goal hero Megan Rapinoe said afterward that without those saves the United States would have been down 3-1. But Solo said she was prepared for a tough first half.
"Historically, it takes us some time to get our feet under us and really getting rolling and to kind of find our groove," she said. "There's going to be jitters. We have young players. Even without young players, we tend to take some time to find our groove. I expected that. I was glad that we could weather the storm and eventually play a little bit more comfortable in the second half."
As a consequence, Solo wasn't as busy after halftime, but she still had to be sharp to stop another long-range effort from van Egmond after the Australia midfielder escaped the attentions of Julie Johnston. That save preserved a 2-1 lead, one Rapinoe clinched with her second goal of the game. It wasn't enough for Solo to completely forget what happened in the first half, but to her credit, there was nothing she could do to stop Lisa De Vanna's strike in the 27th minute.
"Obviously, it's not good enough, but it's not where you start, it's where you finish," Solo said. "So as long as we steadily climb, I think we'll be just fine."
It was a performance that, when taken in isolation, was hugely impressive. But nothing Solo does is ever taken in isolation. Right now, her current form will always be juxtaposed against the domestic violence charges that continue to hang over her, as well as the details of her arrest that emerged this week in an Outside the Lines report.
When asked if it was difficult to stay focused over the past few days, Solo said with a steely gaze, "I'm perfectly focused, sir. Perfectly focused," before the line of inquiry was cut off by a U.S. soccer spokesman.
One suspects the past few days haven't been easy, but as Monday's performance showed, Solo has always been adept at compartmentalizing things. The soccer field has long been her refuge, and roommate and longtime friend Carli Lloyd insisted that what she saw over the past two days is no different from five months ago when Solo first returned from a U.S. Soccer-mandated suspension.
"I think she's the Hope that we have seen in previous years," Lloyd said. "She's been fully focused. She's been great. She's been leading back there. She's sharp. She's been training super hard. ... It's no surprise to me that she came up big in those moments."
This much is certain. Solo will continue to divide opinion. The U.S. team will continue to rely on Solo's prodigious gifts. And she will continue to deliver performances like the world witnessed against Australia.