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Women's team facing turmoil

September 30, 2007|Philip Hersh | Special to The Times

SHANGHAI -- In barely 30 seconds, Hope Solo said enough to take the heat off the coach whose decision to replace her as starting goalie for the U.S. women's soccer team had looked more wrongheaded with every passing minute.

Questions about whether Greg Ryan has a future as the team's head coach suddenly turned into questions about whether Solo has a future with the team, no matter who coaches it.

A day after Team USA suffered the most lopsided defeat in the 22 years of its women's soccer program, a 4-0 loss to Brazil on Thursday in the World Cup semifinals, Solo's postgame reaction had replaced the goalie switch and the underwhelming U.S. performance as the hot issue.

What Solo said to reporters in the mixed zone area of Dragon Stadium in Hangzhou was such strong criticism of the player who replaced her, Briana Scurry, it violated what Ryan called Friday a "code of support, that players always supported one another."

Said Julie Foudy, captain of U.S. teams that won two Olympic titles and one world title: "You don't say what she did. When I saw that quote, it was like a dagger to the heart. Bri [Scurry] didn't make that decision."

Speaking Friday at a Shanghai hotel, Ryan made it clear, by implication if not point-blank, that Solo's statements may have cost her not only a start in Sunday's third-place game against Norway but probably jeopardized her status as the U.S. goalie of the future. Ryan, who became head coach in 2005, said reconciliation is possible if "both parties are sincere." He added, in a hardly veiled threat, "One of the great strengths of American teams is the talent pool of our goaltenders."

No U.S. player was made available to the media today.

"I do know the players are concerned," Ryan said. "I don't want to comment on their reaction."

Solo, making her World Cup debut, started the first four games of the tournament, giving up two goals in the first 62 minutes and none in the next 298. But Ryan chose Cup veteran Scurry as goalie for the semifinal based on past performances against Brazil in big games, especially the 2004 Olympic final.

When Scurry delivered an effort of much less quality Thursday, it was too much for Solo.

"It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that," Solo said. "There's no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves.

"And the fact of the matter is it's not 2004 anymore. . . . It's 2007, and I think you have to live in the present.

"And you can't live by big names. You can't live in the past. It doesn't matter what somebody did in an Olympic gold-medal game in the Olympics three years ago. Now is what matters, and that's what I think."

Ryan's choice of Scurry had generated so much controversy that an America Online poll received 50,000 votes on whether it hurt the U.S. team and whether Ryan should remain as coach. The voters resoundingly rejected both Ryan and his move.

"In hindsight, you can say maybe the easier decision was to do it the other way," Ryan said.

"I know I put myself on the line a little bit, maybe a whole lot. At the time, I believed Bri was the right choice."

Ryan insisted he was not worried about whether the loss to Brazil would cost him his job. Sunil Gulati, the U.S. Soccer Federation president, declined to address the issue after the game.

"I've never spent five minutes trying to keep my job," Ryan said, "but I've spent every waking minute trying to do my job."

Philip Hersh covers Olympic sports for The Times and the Chicago Tribune.

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