On Women's soccer: Ryan confronts his past

On women's soccer
Published September 22, 2008

U.S. Women's National team goalie Hope Solo has a well-publicized, tumultuous history with Michigan women’s soccer coach Greg Ryan.

So, when Arizona State announced on Saturday that Solo would sign autographs during halftime of last Sunday’s matchup between the Sun Devils and the Wolverines, it was bound to get a little awkward.

“Based on a lot of the things that Hope did, said, the way she behaved towards her team, I just don’t have a lot of respect for her,” Ryan said in a postgame phone interview. “And that’s not going to change.”

Ryan, the U.S. National team coach from 2005 to 2007, benched starting goalkeeper Solo in favor of veteran Brianna Scurry in the 2007 Women’s World Cup semifinal against Brazil. Scurry had not seen considerable playing time since the 2004 World Cup, and allowed all four goals in the 4-0 loss.

Ryan was criticized for his move, and his contract with the National team was not renewed for 2008, but it was Solo’s comments after the game that drew attention.

“There's no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves," Solo said after the loss. "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."

After those remarks, the veteran players ostracized Solo from the team. She wasn’t allowed to play or train with the squad and was forced to eat her meals alone. Solo left the team, but eventually rejoined this year and went on to win an Olympic gold medal in Beijing.

The Sun Devils made the announcement about the special guest over the loudspeaker just before halftime. It was at that point that Michigan became aware of who was in the building.

“We were like, ‘Oh I wonder if they planned that?’” senior goalkeeper Madison Gates said. “Or, ‘why would she be here when Greg (Ryan) is coaching?’ I mean, we all got a laugh out of it.”

Arizona State women’s soccer media relations contact Steve Rodriguez said bringing Solo to sign autographs on Sunday was a marketing decision to provide more exposure to women’s soccer, and he insisted it was just a coincidence that Ryan happened to be on the sidelines that day.

“Hope Solo could have been Mia Hamm," Rodriguez said. “It could have been anyone who could get more fans out there.”

Hope Solo’s outburst was the biggest story in the world of women’s soccer last year. It’s hard to imagine that the Arizona State athletic department wouldn’t try to capitalize on a dramatic storyline.

But regardless of whether there were underlying intentions, Michigan didn’t seem phased. Ryan emphasized the importance of the game, and didn’t let the situation interfere with his coaching.

“We heard it over the loudspeaker at half time, but he never brought it up during the game," Gates said. "It was after we got out of the locker room, after we had showered and headed to the airport. Nothing was brought up or awkward during the game."

Ryan may be famous for unpopular reasons, but he’s completely focused on his current team. When Ryan was hired in February, he was branded with the Hope Solo-World Cup fiasco. But the Wolverines, in need of a coach, saw hope and excitement.

“It was really an encouraging time for us to have this amazing coach who’s been at the top of his game and at the top level soccer to come coach for Michigan,” Gates said.

Michigan’s attack and defensive presence has improved tremendously since a year ago. Big Ten play begins on Friday, and the Wolverines (3-4-2) have already tied their number of wins from last season.

“It’s no problem,” Ryan said. “She was here signing autographs and doing what she does. I was here coaching and doing what I do.”