That long, audible sigh you heard Tuesday night was the U.S. Soccer Federation's reaction to word that the assault case against goalkeeper Hope Solo had been dismissed.
Solo's court case has been the elephant in the room for U.S. Soccer ever since she was arrested in June after an incident with her half-sister and nephew. That elephant in the room morphed into a dancing hippo singing karaoke as the Ray Rice story became a national conversation. The conversation eventually turned to Solo and her pending trial.
As Solo vied for the American shutout record last summer and fall, U.S. Soccer -- instead of appropriately recognizing her efforts in a subdued way -- controversially gave her the captain's armband in one game. And no matter how hard they tried to deflect it, the possibility still remained for the U.S. women: Their teammate, a two-time Olympic gold medal-winning goalkeeper, could be tried in court on two misdemeanor counts of fourth-degree assault.
Now take that one step further. Walk through the parade of possibilities you know Solo, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and the team were contemplating. If convicted at trial, the court of public opinion would have called for Solo's suspension. And I'm guessing Gulati would have done that.
But suspending Solo is not a Roger Goodell-like process with a national governing body like the U.S. Soccer Federation. The Amateur Sports Act calls for an arbitration process in a case like Solo's. It is possible that with a conviction, an arbitrator would have agreed with the suspension. The question for U.S. Soccer then would have been the length of the suspension. My educated guess is that Solo would have missed the 2015 World Cup, likely her last on the field.
Which would have begged the question: What does Solo mean to the American team and its World Cup chances?
Given that Solo has started 26 of the past 30 American games, Team USA appeared to have no secure goalkeeper succession plan. Injuries did hamper the backup goalkeeper position somewhat, but Solo has had the starting goalie position locked up for years now. And for most of that time, she has been one of the best goalies in the world. From a pure soccer standpoint, Solo, when healthy, is the best goalkeeping option for the U.S. and can help it win the World Cup -- especially given the lack of national team playing time given to any of the backup goalkeepers.
But the dangling questions with Solo are: Will her off-field behavior cloud her performances and those of her teammates? Does Solo in the end enhance or distract? It is an interesting gamble and one that coach Jillian Ellis is willing to wager.
If the case is indeed over -- the prosecutor's office has vowed to appeal -- the obvious bonus for the players is the disruption becomes peripheral. And that will be a welcome change for the team. Most likely, though, there will be lingering conversation about the accusations and the possibility that the case will proceed.
Her teammates certainly hope this issue is behind them. Not just because they have their goalie back, but also because they won't have to continue answering questions about the incident. For the moment, they can focus on soccer, their training, and that pesky prize called the World Cup, which happens to be less than five months away -- five months they'd prefer to be drama-free.