Hope Solo reminded the world how much controversy fuels her

Hope Solo spent much of the last six months, and the last two days in particular, in the spotlight. But it had nothing to do with her play, or even her status as arguably the best women’s goalkeeper in the world. Instead, the talk was about her domestic violence case that was dropped, or her suspension from the U.S. women’s national team in January, or what kind of a distraction she would be to the Americans at the World Cup.

Solo’s response? Silence. And then going out in the United States’ World Cup opener and looking every bit the part of game-changing, dominant goalkeeper that she’s been for nearly a decade now. Thanks in large part to trademark Soloian stops, the U.S. took a 3-1 win from Australia to open its 2015 Women’s World Cup.

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The U.S.’s No. 1 was called upon early in tonight’s match against Australia, and she did superbly to push a goal-bound shot off the crossbar and away. Another stupendous save followed. She collected every cross that came in, marshaled her defense and sprawled out for a few more stops. Only once was she beat, on a wide open shot from right in front of goal that nobody would stop, and Solo still came close to it.

Any question of what type of distraction Solo would be, or if she would be a distraction at all, were quickly put to bed. Maybe it was in the sixth minute when she made a great save. Maybe it took another 10 or 20 minutes before the idea of a distraction was well out of mind. But there’s no doubt that it’s gone now.

Any talk of a Solo lack focus ignored something that we’ve come to know in the last 10 years — Solo thrives under chaos. When things break down, or go sideways, or people want to talk about something other than her otherworldly play, Solo simplifies. She focuses on her goalkeeping, and that drives her to be at her best.

Whatever happened last year when police arrested Solo can be discussed and debated. How U.S. Soccer handled the situation could be called into question, too. But on the field, Solo is a known quantity. She is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and the type of player that can turn a loss into a win.

Solo may have done that against Australia. A goalkeeper who is merely good probably concedes another goal, maybe even two or three. But Solo is not merely good. She didn’t let the U.S. fall behind early. She gave it the chance to sort things out, play through its problems and, late in the match, to go out and win.

That’s what Solo does, controversy or not. It’s what she’s always done. And in case anyone wasn’t clear, the U.S. has one advantage over every other team in the tournament: Hope Solo in goal.

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