Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Following a practice session under hot and humid conditions, Hope Solo stood to the side of the field at Montclair State University dripping in sweat when she was asked how she felt after recently returning from a lengthy injury layoff.
Without hesitation, Solo responded by saying she feels nowhere near hear best before adding where she believes she is at physically: 65 percent.
Solo may be back with the U.S. Women’s National Team and a candidate to start in her first international game against Korea Republic tonight at Red Bull Arena since being sidelined for the better part of four months because of a wrist injury. But the 31-year-old goalkeeper is well aware that she is far removed from the type of form that saw her shine at the 2011 World Cup and 2012 Olympics.
In fact, Solo is candid enough to admit that the current drop-off in her play is a direct result of multiple factors and not just the wrist knock that required surgery back in early March.
“Of course, the surgery has taken five months off but even on our Victory Tour (after winning gold at the Olympics), the 10-game tour, we weren’t working on a lot,” said Solo. “We kind of maybe were drinking too much, maybe we’re going on vacations. After the Olympics that’s what people tend to do: You take a step away and then you come out driven and ready to work hard leading into the next event. Right now, I think everyone is getting back into things.”
If everyone is getting back into a rhythm, Solo is playing catch up from well behind the rest of the pack. Solo has missed a large chunk of the camps that new U.S. head coach Tom Sermanni has held because of the wrist that had damaged ligaments and she only recently started playing again with her NWSL club, Seattle Reign.
The more games Solo plays the better she will be, but that still leaves the question of what exactly it is she needs to improve in the coming weeks and months in order to get back to her very best. Admittedly, the veteran has plenty to work on.
“Everything is average right now, maybe above average, and I want to be great,” said Solo. “Whether it’s distribution, whether it’s left foot, right foot, my technique, catching, diving, power, one-v-one, so it’s all across the board. I want my game to be as best it can be and right now, I’m okay.”
Solo is not the only one on the U.S. squad who is aware of her shortcomings right now. Sermanni also knows Solo has a long ways to go to once again be the commanding and dominating goalkeeper that many consider to be No. 1 in the women’s game today, but he is stressing patience.
“When you’re out for a period, it does take time,” said Sermanni. “You tend to come back with a bang and then you take a couple steps forward and a step back. You’ve got to realize she had a fairly serious injury and it might take her some time to come back, but at the moment she’s been impressive in training and impressing in the games we’ve played.”
Solo played the second half of the Americans’ 4-1 victory over Korea Republic at Gillette Stadium this past weekend, her first appearance at the international level since February. She came up with a big save almost immediately after entering the field and while she showed no ill effects during her 45-minute cameo, that does not mean she is playing problem-free.
“Luckily with the wrist, I didn’t go through nearly as much pain as I did with my shoulder (back in 2011). … The wrist was a lot easier but coming back now I’m feeling the pain a lot more,” said Solo. “Trying to figure out exactly how to tape it, my strength isn’t where it should be, but I’m overall pleased with the surgery and the outcome.”
She will be even more pleased if she gets the start and a cleansheet on Thursday night.