Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hope Solo: From Team Outcast To Team Savior

Four years ago, not many people would have predicted that Hope Solo would be the media darling and fan favorite that she is today. Nine months ago, many were wondering if she'd be able to return from a major shoulder surgery to even make the World Cup team.

Controversial Comments At 2007 World Cup

In the 2007 World Cup Finals, Solo was benched in favor of long-standing American goal-keeper, Brianna Scurry.  Scurry was the goalie when the United States won the World Cup in 1999, but in 2007 hadn't played a full game in months while Solo was the starter.
Then-coach Greg Ryan thought that Scurry, who had always played well against the Brazilians in the past, would be the best choice to start and benched an emotional Solo.  The resultant 4-0 loss to Brazil (and the emotional roller coaster from the death of her father a few weeks prior) provoked Solo into making comments immediately after the game that she would have made those saves.  Her team then summarily dismissed her from the rest of the tournament, upset with her apparent me-first attitude.

Solo didn't play for the team again until Coach Ryan had been dismissed and Pia Sundhage came aboard. While the team itself wasn't keen on having Solo back after her comments at the World Cup, Sundhage was able to help repair the rift between the goalie and team.  However, it still took a while for her to be fully accepted again.

 In the 2008 Summer Olympics, the United States team defeated Brazil 1-0 in the Gold Medal game, with Solo in goal making amazing save after amazing save. Since then, Solo has been a fixture in goal for the Women's National Team, and has gradually built her reputation as the best goalkeeper in the women's game.

Massive Shoulder Reconstruction Surgery in 2010

Then came 2010 when Solo's right shoulder could no longer hold up to the physical style of keeping that she had been using for years.  Here are the injuries that Solo was found to have in her shoulder that necessitated surgery:

  • A full 360-degree tear of the right labrum (the same injury that Drew Brees had)
  • Her biceps tendon had torn completely off the shoulder, taking with it three decent-sized pieces of bone
  • Complete loss of the articular cartilage in the joint   

Any one of these injuries could have caused a player of Solo's caliber to lose their career.  She had a massive shoulder reconstructive surgery performed by the renowned surgeon, Dr. James Andrews.  Not only did he place 11 anchors in the joint to stabilize it, but he also performed a microfracture procedure on the joint to help grow new articular cartilage.

Shoulder surgery is often considered to have the most painful rehabilitation process, and Solo's ordeal was no different.  Six months of intensive rehab followed, with daily sessions lasting up to six hours.  Now, 10 months after the extensive surgery, Solo still plays with some pain and a limited range of motion, but she has adjusted.
"It's been a very tough road, but I'm starting to realize the pain is always going to be there, so I've stopped protecting it as much," she said. "I used to try to shy away from the pain and pull my shoulder back, but I'm learning to roll with it. It's been hard."
She appears to be back.  The penalty kick save in extra time during the game against Brazil in the semi-finals was a dive to the right (as seen below).  A few months ago, it was practically inconceivable that Solo would be able to make world-class saves like that one, but with the determination and drive of a champion, she has done just that.

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