By Spencer Kellogg | USA
Hope Solo, the Tanya Harding of US Soccer and the former goalie and captain of the US Women’s National Team, has thrown her hat into the upcoming race for United States Soccer Federation (USSF) President. In an announcement posted to her Facebook (Hope Solo Facebook) on Friday, Hope Solo laid out the reasons she is seeking the most influential position in US Soccer. Namely, Solo points to the costly American youth soccer system as the main culprit in narrowing the field of prospective players. She details how as a child she had to go from house to house begging for the money of neighbors so she could participate in the highest levels of our youth development program. Travel soccer and the Olympic Development Program are cost-prohibitive programs that would significantly shrink the player pool of almost any nation in the world. Solo points to the USSF, flush with money, and asks why they have not done more to help the poor and disadvantaged in this country participate in the world’s game. Her campaign rightfully suggests that the USSF has prioritized money over the progress of the sport in this country and implies that the defeat of the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) in last year’s World Cup signals a deep desire in both the players and the fan-base for a significant overhaul.
Long a controversial figure in the sport, Solo has seen her ups and downs. She guided her team to a World Cup in 2015 and was plastered all over popular collectible items. Later, her career came crashing down in one night, as she was arrested for domestic abuse in a bizarre incident that left much of the soccer watching public questioning the character and leadership ability of one of the US Women’s National Team’s top stars. To this day, she is still banned from participating with the national team due to her past troubles, which made her Friday announcement a shock. Many in the soccer media have already dismissed and criticized the campaign, due to Solo’s troubles and to her young age. I also suspect there is a certain amount of gender bias at play in the media’s reaction. Though the women have achieved greater success than the men’s team, the sport is still run and organized by men. On ESPN FC, former Scottish defender Steve Nicol appeared to be sitting on a pine cone as he bounced incredulously in his seat, attempting to hide his obvious disdain for the woman from the wrong side of the tracks. Solo is the exact messenger we need for this time because she is a rough and tumble winner who battled for everything that she has and refuses to go silently into the night.
The past decade, US Soccer has been run by the Columbia University economics professor and serial wimp Sunil Gulati, who represents everything that Solo is not. He’s about as charming as a fig newton and speaks with the subtle confidence of a cerebral academic that owns no heart. His tenure has proved divisive to many in the US Soccer community calling for quicker progress and higher expectations on the field. Derided by some as out of touch with the game and its player pool, many used the USMNT failure to qualify for Russia 2018 as the evidence they needed to force his resignation. Solo is not a charming and eloquent speaker. She chairs no federations or owns no tenure-track position at a prestigious university. She is aggressive in her approach and unafraid to tell you exactly what she thinks. After the loss to Sweden in the past World Cup, she called Sweden’s players “a bunch of cowards” and was promptly browbeaten by the rich and fat administrators and media who have made US Soccer into a monolith of politeness. The federation has been weakened by the approach of the man from the ivory tower and it is time to move forward with an outsider with outside ideas.
Soccer is a sport of the people. Developed in the favelas of Rio, the ghettos of Napoli and in cement alleys all over the planet, soccer is hailed as the “world’s game” due to the level playing field it provides to all players. You only need a ball at your feet to play and many of the great players throughout the game’s history have grown up in abject poverty. In the US, on the other hand, we associate soccer with suburban mothers, orange slices, and a modified pay to play scheme that keeps many of our top talents from reaching their highest potential. A major problem facing US Soccer is precisely that its image is that of an upper-class white sport. For years, I have watched commentators speculate on how well the USMNT would perform if only they had players of Kobe Bryant and Russell Wilson’s athletic makeup and racial diversity. A power and money hungry USSF has restricted poor talent from reaching this leveled playing field in recent decades by often putting their own benefits over their players. No clearer an image of this can be drawn than the particular case of Freddy Adu, a Ghana-born American midfielder who an eager media hailed as the ‘next Pele’. Despite this, a greedy federation spurned the player. Now 28 years old, Adu is out of the game entirely. Much of the discussion around his lack of development falls squarely at the feet of US Soccer, who used the young athlete to furnish corporate deals at a time when US Soccer was morphing into the behemoth of corporatism that it represents today. The sport of soccer was never meant to be about money. It was a beguiling game of tactical nuance and creative flair on a field as open as the minds of the players who stood on it. Looking at the USSF, it is hard to make out any of that independent spirit, and I believe someone like Solo is exactly the type of lightning strike needed to blow up the breaker.
Hope Solo does not play nice. She is a fighter from the streets of America and nothing was ever given to her. She does not shy away from speaking her mind and the controversy that has followed her can make it difficult to trust her ability to lead. Still, I want to see her as President of USSF. Of all the candidates to come forward, Solo has been best at enunciating what plagues our national teams and what needs to be done to change a network of operations that does not always have what is best for the sport in the forefront. After a decade of weak and polite conversations about the passive state of soccer in the USA, I want to know what it’s like to have a brash outsider bulldoze over the cemetery of American soccer and that is why I am supporting Hope Solo for USSF President in 2018!