VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Hope Solo has an ailing leg, the result of some extra work she was putting in to get back into playing shape after “Dancing With the Stars.”
The timing isn’t the greatest. The U.S. women’s soccer team is about to play the game that determines whether it goes to the Olympics.
“We have to make a decision whether she is 100 percent to go or not,” coach Pia Sundhage said Wednesday. “And if she isn’t, we have a tremendous backup goalkeeper.”
The United States plays Costa Rica on Friday in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. The winner goes to London; the loser stays home for the summer.
Solo, who played college soccer at the University of Washington, was clutching her right leg during the Americans’ 4-0 win over Mexico on Tuesday and was wearing on ice pack on the leg after the game. She said she had a “little quad pull,” suffered a few days earlier in practice and aggravated during the first half against the Mexicans.
“Toward the end of the game I was a little worried that I was going to have to come out, but being qualifying and only having three subs, you don’t really want to sub the goalkeeper,” Solo said after the game. “So I definitely knew I could maintain for another 15 minutes.”
Solo has said she lost some of her muscle strength during her two-month run on “Dancing With the Stars,” an appearance that capitalized on the U.S. team’s popularity following last summer’s World Cup. She finished in fourth place with partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy, but the moves involved in executing the perfect cha-cha aren’t the same as the ones needed to stop a header at the far post.
“I’m trying to get my quickness back, and my sharpness back, and my kicking back, so I’ve been focusing a lot on my kicking,” she said. “And I think it just fatigued and it pulled a little bit.”
Sundhage said Solo has been working “double” compared to the rest of the team, and that a tweaked muscle here or there could be expected.
“She knows she needs to work really hard to get there,” Sundhage said. “So if she skips one day, she has to go twice the next day. If you look at her situation, since the World Cup she’s a very popular person. … It takes time for her to get back.”
“Talking to her, she wants to be the best goalkeeper,” the coach said. “She knows what it takes and she needs to be patient. The most important thing is we don’t want to jeopardize anything.”
Solo has played every minute of the Americans’ three games at the tournament, but she hasn’t had to do much. The U.S. team has outscored its opponents 31-0, and Solo didn’t have to make a save against Mexico.
And, on paper at least, a less-than-100-percent Solo or backup Nicole Barnhart should be more than enough to hold off Costa Rica. Las Ticas are ranked No. 41 in the world have never beaten the U.S., having been outscored 34-0 in seven meetings.
But the Americans are wary about the game because they slipped up in the semifinals of World Cup qualifying 14 months ago, losing to Mexico for the first time ever. The defeat forced the U.S. into a playoff to earn a trip to the World Cup in Germany.
There is no such playoff available in Olympic qualifying, so an upset on Friday would keep the world’s top-ranked team out of the Summer Games.
Solo and her teammates got a needed day off Wednesday following a grueling stretch of three games in five days.
“Luckily going into the next game, the most important game, I’ll have an extra day of rest,” Solo said Tuesday night. “So I think things should be fine. I’m hoping things will be fine.”
While Solo’s dancing stint brought invaluable attention to women’s soccer, Sundhage admits she was apprehensive after finding out that her goalkeeper was taking part.
“I was scared. High heels?” the coach said with a laugh. “It doesn’t matter what I think. Obviously she wanted to do it. Obviously it was fun for her, and a lot of attention to the goalkeeper of the national team. But, honestly, I was scared. That outfit? It was so different from the soccer player Hope Solo I know.”
So was the coach rooting against Solo, perhaps hoping for an early elimination?