Sunday, December 9, 2012

Learning to Live with It

If you follow women's soccer, or the tabloids, you've probably heard about Hope Solo's drunken bachelorette/bachelor party/melee, followed by her appearance at a hearing on domestic battery charges that she brought against her fiancee (now husband), a former NFL player with an impressive history of run-ins with the law including DUI, possession with intent to distribute, and, most disturbingly, sexual assault.

Various folks have weighed in on what should or should not be off limits with regard to Solo and what appear to be some questionable life choices (not that that should be particularly shocking given her public declarations in the past). But my take is a little different. It's about the choices that coaches and teams are sometimes forced to make.

Coaches are fond of saying that they have one set of rules that applies to all players. But they know, and the players know, that that's not always the case.

At any level, coaches have to make adjustments and even exceptions for exceptional players. And they have to depend on the players to understand that it's for the good of the team that they do so, even if  the players that exceptions are made for aren't "team players."

After watching the U.S. Women's team in the Olympics, reading Solo's controversial comments regarding Brandi Chastain's commentary and the lack of public support that she received for those comments from her teammates and coaches, and then watch the last two friendlies that the team played against the Republic of Ireland, I wonder how much tongue biting and eye rolling goes on inside the team when Solo opens her mouth. Because two things are clear: first, Solo, true to her name, is not a team player; and, second, the team really, really needs her.

Um, that look pretty much says it all.

Admittedly, it may not be fair to evaluate based on two halves of two friendlies, but Solo's backup, Nicole Barnhart, looked very shaky in her two appearances. While her decision-making would undoubtedly benefit from more game time, she looked indecisive on crosses and balls in the box.

Keepers are like left-handed pitchers in baseball -- they're often viewed as the odd-balls, marching to the beat of a different drummer (no doubt in part because they are the only players allowed to use their hands). But that doesn't mean they can't or don't have to be good teammates.

It will be interesting to see how the new head coach of the National Team, Tom Sermanni, deals with Solo. Perhaps, like Pia Sundhage before him, he will decide that regardless of the distractions, it's best for the team that he tolerate them as best as he and the team can. But we should also probably hope (pun intended) that somewhere in the program a replacement is being groomed.

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