Whenever a debate about the best female goalkeeper in the world comes up, you can guarantee one name will always be included in the argument.
Hope Solo, she who wears the no. 1 on her U.S. jersey, had an award-winning 2009. But the Saint Louis Athletica and U.S. Women's National Team goalkeeper knew she could have done a lot more, and looks to improve her game in 2010.
Awards are nice, but winning championships is the ultimate prize.
Solo sat down to talk about her performance last year, the match against Germany, and who she thinks will be the top pick at next week's WPS Draft.
Kat Galsim: First of all, congratulations on being named U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year and being the first goalkeeper to win it.
Hope Solo: Yeah, I appreciate that.
KG: How did you find out?
HS: I found out right before we had a scrimmage against a boys team in [the National Team training] camp in LA. And it was actually from Aaron Heifetz, our press officer, who basically tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Would you do an on-camera interview thanking everybody for winning U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year?" And I literally was like a deer in headlights. I was like, "Huh? What are you talking about?" So it was pretty unofficial, the way I was told. And I don't think I realized what that meant when I first was told.
But as the days went on I realized that it's a huge honor and U.S. Soccer takes this award pretty serious. And not only am I proud of the work I've put in, personally, but I'm so proud for a goalkeeper to win it. Whether that was a female goalkeeper, whether one like Tim Howard that wins it, it's an honor to represent the goalkeepers.
KG: Looking back last year, you won WPS Goalkeeper of the Year, then the U.S. Soccer award, even Algarve Cup MVP. You are also widely perceived to be one of the best female goalkeepers in the world, if not the best. So one would think you're on top of your game right now. But as an athlete, you always want to improve. What do you think you need to work on this year, especially with helping Athletica win the championship and preparing for next year's World Cup?
HS: It's funny, I think a lot of people would think that I am on top of my game right now, but I'm not anywhere to where I need to be going into the World Cup in 2011.With that said I think an athlete's career is based on when you peak, and right now I'm not at my peak. And I think that's a good thing.
So going into the season, first and foremost, winning awards and not winning awards, I want to win a championship. I want to win the league with St. Louis, I want to win the World Cup with the U.S. team, I want to win another Olympics. Awards aside, I think that's my number one focus, just finding a way for our team to win the league. And I think any player should want that, I think that's kind of the competitive spirit that we all have.
But personally, the things that I'm looking to improve upon, first off I can tell you I didn't have an amazing season last year. Winning Goalkeeper of the Year was an honor, of course, it always is. But I do expect more of myself, and my distribution was off all year long. I started off very, very slow and I think, I would like to pride myself in consistency, and at the start of the year, it wasn't there. So I think there are always things I think I can improve upon.
One of the things I was delighted in is my decision-making, my ability to come out for crosses. But I think it's more...My distribution is usually one of the top in the world, and last year it wasn't quite there.
KG: You also mentioned before that when (goalkeeper coach) Paul Rogers came on board for St. Louis, your game improved. So how would you rate your performance before Paul Rogers, and after he came on board?
HS: He would love this question. It's kinda funny because we kinda have a joking relationship and he likes to think that I never won a goalkeeper award until he started coaching me (laughs). Which I had to prove him wrong 'cause it wasn't the case.
But it is true, I mean, he makes me think differently about the game. I think for so long I was relying on my athleticism. I knew I was a good decision-making goalkeeper, but he really, really made me think even more about positioning, about angles, about small things. And the small, tiny, details have really helped my game. It could be just 2 inches off my right post or a yard higher off my line, and it has enabled me to come out for more balls. And it's funny, I don't think I faced a lot of shots. I like to say that I break up the play, whether it's putting defenders at the right places or cutting off through balls and I think that's important. I think a great coach will help you do that.
KG: Let's talk about Germany. What was it like playing in a future World Cup stadium packed with 30,000 people yelling, screaming, basically cheering against you?
HS: (Laughs) Definitely against us. It was incredible. From what I hear they already have sold out stadiums for the Women's World Cup. Talking to the organizing committee, they are not holding back when it comes to the marketing side of things for the Women's World Cup, and they're equating it with the marketing that they put for the Men's World Cup when they held it in Germany. So I know it's gonna be one of the most incredible events that I've ever, hopefully, get to be a part of.
But just this one game, you could tell, you could feel the excitement for the women's game. Not just the Women's World Cup being held in Germany, but the women's game in Germany [that] they take so much pride in. And the German team, I think they're ranked number two right now, but I think they are absolutely one of the best in the world. People compare them, us, and Brazil...[we're] usually the top three but Germany is incredible in all areas, in all aspects on the field, whether it's attacking and defending...So for me you can tell that the people of Germany take pride in the quality of soccer that the women's team play.
KG: I also talked to Lori Chalupny about this, but what was it like yelling at your defenders and having them not hear you?
HS: That's hard. It makes you wonder how the men's teams do it, especially in the [English Premiere League]. It's really hard. Like I said earlier I pride myself in putting defenders in the right place and preventing a shot before it even takes place. And when your defenders can't even hear you and you're screaming, I found myself trying to move a defender and push them out wide, put pressure on the ball, screaming to get them to try and hear me to do it, and as I'm yelling, the shot comes. So I wasn't even prepared for a shot. It's a hard environment to play in, but I think it was well worth the experience going forward.
KG: Do you think you'll have more games like that in the horizon, before the World Cup?
HS: Yeah, one would hope, but I highly doubt that. Well, depending if we qualify. Qualifying season's in South America and the stadiums could get really loud.
In our qualifying [game] in Mexico, that was another amazing environment to play in. But we have a couple of friendlies this year in the U.S. and I can only hope that our fans can get as loud as the German fans and the Mexico fans (laughs).
KG: The WPS Draft is next week. Who do you think will be the top pick?
HS: That's a tough one. The top pick of the draft could quite possibly be Kelley O'Hara, could be a defender even, Whitney Engen. But obviously [two] of my favorite players [are] Lauren Cheney and Tobin Heath. So, who knows?
KG: Atlanta has the top pick.
HS: Yeah, I'm thinking it could be Kelley O'Hara.
I then asked Hope if she was up to answering a couple of random questions. Her response? "Shoot them out."
KG: You have a reputation of being a big bookworm. Does the amount of books you bring to trips cause you to go over the weight limit whenever you check in?
HS: It's called, "the second carry on bag being a rollie." That's the trick.
KG: Do you even read all of your books?
HS: Nope (laughs). It's pretty funny I come with all these books on trips because, you know, we'll go to China forever where there's not much to do, or anytime I go overseas I usually have a full carry on of books. And it's because I don't know what mood I'm gonna be in so I'll read three books at a time, then it just depends what I get into. So that's why I have a whole suitcase full.
KG: How I do get to the first Starbucks store if I'm coming from the Pike Place Fish Market? Walking directions please.
HS: Pike Place...all you have to do is, right in front of the farmer...the market sign...the fisherman sign? You walk across the street, headed east, and it's right on the first corner. Don't test me, I know Seattle. And I know Starbucks.
KG: Did U.S. Soccer send you a fruit basket when they named you Female Athlete of the Year?
HS: Wow, absolutely not.
KG: What? Not even a muffin basket?
HS: I didn't get anything...Not even a pat on the back! What the heck.
KG: That's awful.
HS: Well I haven't really seen anybody since that was announced, how's that?
KG: Okay. You have camp coming up soon though so they better have a fruit basket in your room.
HS: In my room waiting for me, I hope so.
KG : In your Nike Women Training photo shoot, the photographer kept telling you that you're a tiger...
HS: How do you know about that?
KG: It's on YouTube. Didn't, didn't you know?
HS: YouTube? Oh my gosh I'm embarrassed. That's why everybody needs to stay off that (laughs). Gah!
Yes, the photographer wanted me to be intense and furious, and he kept saying "You're a tiger baby! You're a tiger!" And it would make me laugh! And I'm like, "Dude, you're kicking me out of my zone." Like, I'm focused, I'm ready to perform, I'm furious, I'm getting into game mode, I'm intense, and he would throw "You're a tiger baby!" And I'd, I'd lose it. Absolutely lose my focus (laughs).
KG: So you're not a tiger then?
HS: Well my dad used to call me "Tigger," from Winnie the Pooh.
KG : That's great. In Stephanie Cox's birthday party, why did you push Heather O'Reilly and Tobin Heath to the pool? Were you trying to show off your goalkeeper strength?
HS: (Laughs) I actually think that they were probably trying to mess with people and in the end they didn't expect to get messed with.
KG: Is one of your New Year's resolutions to use Twitter more?
HS: I'm so bad at Twitter. I think I'm gonna...I don't even know how to say it, "tweet?" I'm gonna tweet more during the season.
KG: Well what kind of application do you use for Twitter?
HS: Excuse me?
KG: Like wh...
HS: I don't, I don't know all that talk. It's too high-tech for me.
KG: And lastly, what is the best soccer city in the United States, Seattle or St. Louis?
HS: Oh don't do that to me. You can't do that to me. Can't do it.
I think, and I may be wrong, you should ask the experts, I think that St. Louis may have more of a history with soccer than Seattle. But I think Seattle is an amazing current soccer city and St. Louis is still building what they had in the past. So we're gonna have a men's team next year, we have a women's team now; whereas in Seattle they have a men's team and I think hopefully in the future they get a women's team. So it all depends on how you look at it...I'm so playing the middle card on this.
Think I had fun interviewing Hope Solo? Most definitely. And if you live in the St. Louis area, you can have the chance to meet her. If you are a goalkeeper, come to her A1 Clinic on Saturday, January 9. Athletica fans can also come to the Saint Louis Athletica Open House on Sunday, January 10. For more details, visit the team's website .