Thursday, August 2, 2012

USA Women, Richland's Hope Solo start real Olympic test Friday in Quarters

The United States women’s national team and Richland, Wash. native Hope Solo begin the knockout phase of the Olympics Friday in the Quarterfinals against New Zealand at 6:30 am PT on NBC Sports Network.

When it comes to major tournaments, more often than not the group phase is a mere formality for the US Women’s National Team, barring any unusual draw. After rallying from two down to top France, 4-2, in the opening game, the team has had little trouble, blanking Colombia 3-0 and edging North Korea 1-0 in a game in which they rested players having already advanced.

After withstanding the slow start, the usual tournament performance has been pushed out of the spotlight by the atypical storylines that have emerged.

Since the final whistle against Colombia Saturday, most of the attention has been on two stories. The first was the sucker-punch thrown by Colombian player Lady Andrade at Abby Wambach away from the ball that went unseen and gave the standout striker a black eye the following morning. The second was the outspoken tweeting of Richland, Wash. native Hope Solo, criticizing former US defender Brandi Chastain’s critical color commentary during the game.

Though Andrade went undisciplined during the match, FIFA reviewed the incident and leveled a two-game suspension that covered the final group match and will extend beyond the Olympics as Colombia failed to advance with a 0-3-0 record. 

Solo all smiles pre-tourney | Sean Donnelly/
The twitter-hype, however, continues to be a story as Solo, who also has a book about her life on and off the field coming out on August 14, brought back memories of the internal strife she created at the 2007 World Cup when she publicly griped about not being named the starter versus Brazil in the 4-0 semifinal loss, claiming that she could have made the saves on the goals that long-time veteran Briana Scurry allowed. Her actions, at that time, led to a lengthy exile from the team before bridges were mended with the players on the team, many of whom she still plays alongside now.

It is believed the comments (below) she made about Chastain, a former teammate of Scurry, were in regards to the commentator’s analysis of defender Rachel Buehler. Though the tweets, made immediately after the match, became big news and created a swirl of controversy around the netminder yet again, Solo remained steadfast behind her comments days later and has yet to retract them. Instead, she iterated that she felt commentators should be positive and add to the game instead of being critical, though the particular personal comments and history may say otherwise.

Hope Solo tweets: 
I feel bad 4 our fans that have 2 push mute, especially bc @arlowhite is fantastic. @brandichastain should be helping 2 grow the sport

Its important 2 our fans 2 enjoy the spirit of the olympics. Its not possible when sum1 on air is saying that a player is the worst defender!

Lay off commenting about defending and gking until you get more educated @brandichastain the game has changed from a decade ago.

Its 2 bad we cant have commentators who better represents the team & knows more about the game @brandichastain

As former MLS player Alecko Eskandarian points out for, Solo previously made an unprovoked comment via Twitter to Chastain after Olympic qualifying by saying after a 27-0 aggregate scoreline, "hey brandi did you find anything positive in our game? Curious minds over here.” 

Back to the tournament on the field... Since allowing the two goals in the first 14 minutes to France, Solo has gone unbeaten in the last 256 minutes of play. The majority of that credit though goes to the team in front of her playing well against inferior competition, allowing just one shot each to Colombia and North Korea, a total one-fifth of what she saw against France.

As a group-winner, the US will face wild card quarterfinalist New Zealand, which finished third in their group at 1-2-0 behind Great Britain and Brazil. They fell narrowly to the hosts in the tournament opener, 1-0, and stunned many with the same scoreline against Brazil before downing Cameroon, 3-1, for their first-ever victory in an Olympic or World Cup event.

The two sides met in the previous Olympic games after the Kiwis had stunned Japan 2-2 in their opener and narrowly lost, 1-0, to Norway. The Americans cruised to a 4-0 victory with goals from Heather O’Reilly, Amy Rodriguez, Lindsay Tarpley and Angela Hucles. At the 2011 World Cup they played US regional rival Mexico to a 2-2 draw after one-goal losses to England in the second game and eventual tournament-winner Japan in the opener, showing they do have the capability to make the match difficult for the US.

A victory would pit the US up against either Great Britain or Canada in the semifinals. The other half of the bracket features France playing Sweden and powers Brazil and Japan in the other quarterfinals.