By now you’ve probably heard about U.S. National Team goalkeeper Hope Solo blasting NBC analyst and USWNT legend Brandi Chastain for critical on-air commentary about the U.S.A. defense during their 3-0 win over Colombia Saturday. Hope is not one to hold back her thoughts, particularly in public, and with Twitter an easy platform to vent on, Hope defended her defense with a wrath not seen since her benching in the 2007 World Cup.
Naturally, Brandi has not responded, and likely won’t, but if she’s on the call for Tuesday’s Group E finale between the U.S. and North Korea, we’ll see if the comments affect her style of commentary in any way.
Twitter is abuzz with fans and media on both sides of the spat. Was Hope right to criticize Brandi? Should Brandi cool down her criticism on-air? And what exactly was it that Brandi said that sparked Hope’s reaction? Let’s see if we can break down the tweets and come to a conclusion.
Whoa, whoa whoa, hold on a minute here, Hope. While I don’t always agree with Brandi’s commentary, to her credit, the analyst’s job is not to represent the team. It’s to provide commentary and analysis of the play on the field. If we wanted someone who just drools over every player, NBC might as well hire American football commentator Jon Gruden to call a soccer match.
Yes, NBC is an American network and Brandi is a former star (and legend) with the U.S. National Team. Since she stepped on that field, she’s been a representative of the U.S. National Team, and continues to be. And it’s not like Brandi fell into oblivion after retirement; she’s currently a coach of women’s soccer at Santa Clara University, so I think she has a little bit of understanding of the game.
I know Hope Solo is passionate about the game. I know that many times she can’t keep her emotions in check. But this is just out of line, much more so than Brandi’s commentary during the game. I don’t think anyone can say that Brandi Chastain is not educated about the game. Yes, styles of play change over time. Coaching changes over time. But nothing Brandi said during the match was uneducated. Critical? Yes. Harsh? Sometimes. But uneducated? No.
But what was it that Brandi said exactly that got Hope so riled up? At first, I thought it was her commentary about the back line not being in sync with the midfield, due to Pia Sundhage’s frequent lineup changes. But then I saw this article in Newsday and remembered the comment she made about Rachel Buehler when a Buehler clearance sent the ball back to Colombia:
At one point, Chastain pointed out that a defender’s responsibilities are: “Defend. Win the ball. And then keep possession. And that’s something that Rachel Buehler actually needs to, I think, improve on in this tournament.”
I understand Hope’s desire to defend Buehler as a teammate who is well-respected. But neither Buehler, nor anyone else on the team, is perfect, nor above criticism. Instead of using criticism to fire off angry backlash, Hope and her teammates should really tune out anything the media says – whether warranted or not – and stay focused on their goal and how they’re being coached. I understand getting angry at comments like that when you feel they are unwarranted, but by letting it get them upset and publicly addressing it, this is just becoming a distraction for the team.
Along with Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, Hope Solo is the face of the U.S. Women’s National Team. She is a leader. Someone to look up to, and emulate. Whether she likes or agrees with Brandi Chastain or not, she needs to tune it out and let it not affect her. Let Sundhage determine how to coach and criticize the team. She can’t let a member of the media fire her up like this, when it serves no positive purpose.
Brandi may be more critical on air than many commentators, but I have to say that while I think she may be a little out of line by verbalizing her opinions at times — particularly on one comment she made yesterday about Heather O’Reilly “not being good enough” in her 60+ minute start — she is very observant and knows this team well.
When I spoke to Brandi in an interview last year during the Women’s College Cup, she told me that she thinks the U.S. needs to get more creative in the midifield. With the lineup changes Sundhage has implemented over the last couple months, particularly in the midfield by playing Rapinoe on the right, inserting Tobin Heath on the left wing and Lauren Cheney as the attacking central midfielder, the team has found that creativity on the ball that they were lacking in the World Cup. And by starting Alex Morgan, they’ve been able to get Wambach more involved in setting up goal-scoring opportunities, not simply relying on getting the ball forward to her — another change Brandi told me back in December that she thinks they’d need to make.
So, no, Hope. Brandi Chastain is not uneducated about the game.
But Hope didn’t stop there.
I don’t recall hearing Brandi say that Buehler was the “worst defender.” Does anyone else? I do agree that it is important for fans to enjoy the spirit of the Olympics. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a competition. Fans of the U.S. know that their team is #1 in the world and have lofty expectations. While I believe that Brandi could tone down some of her commentary, she is there to provide the perspective of someone who has been in that position before. She’s not just any member of the media. She wants the U.S. to be the best in the world and to win as much as anybody — perhaps even more than those who haven’t played at that level.
Sorry, Hope. Once again I’m not on your side here. Nobody can say that Brandi isn’t helping to grow the sport. She is an Advisory Board Member for the Capital One Cup, an award of $200,000 in student-athlete scholarships given annually to both the top Division I men’s and women’s college athletics programs. She coaches women’s soccer at the collegiate level. And she created the ReachUP! Foundation, which mentors young girls to develop skills and healthy lifestyles and achieve their dreams.
And about that fantastic Arlo White? I did hear him call Megan Rapinoe “Rampone” a few times yesterday. But I guess it’s OK to make mistakes on air, as long as you don’t criticize the players.
I think Hope Solo is a terrific athlete and a role model to women and young girls everywhere. But she needs to focus on her play on the field, what she and her teammates and her coach can control, and not get distracted by outside commentary. She needs to not forget that Brandi Chastain was in her place once, too. Brandi and her teammates in the 1996 Olympics and 1999 World Cup deliberately paved the way for girls like Hope and Abby and Alex so that they could be in this moment right now.
One day, when her playing days are over, Hope Solo may be a member of the media too. Will she hold back what she thinks of the U.S. National Team then? Somehow I think not.