Known for her laid-back demeanor and encouraging coaching style, Sundhage is more apt to help players find a way to drive themselves than to be the one to force them one way or another.
So, on Sunday, when all conversation about the U.S. Women’s Soccer team continued to center around goalkeeper Hope Solo‘s disparaging tweets about former U.S. defender and now analyst Brandi Chastain, Sundhage didn’t move to discipline the star keeper, CBSSports.com reports.
Really, the damage was already done.
Solo shot out a series of tweets on Saturday after the U.S. took down Colombia in a testy 3-0 win. While the game had plenty of highlights, including team star Abby Wambach getting drilled in the face by a defender only to come back and score a goal, all attention quickly turned to Solo, who criticized Chastain for her commentary. Solo said Chastain was being unfair to the current generation and failing to support the game and the U.S. players.
Sundhage held a short meeting with Solo and U.S. team captains Wambach and Christie Rampone on Sunday. She emphasized afterward that the conversation was not about discipline or breaking rules but rather about presenting the team in the best way.
“We had a conversation: If you look at the women’s national team, what do you want [people] to see? What do you want them to hear?” Sundhage told reporters at the team hotel. “And that’s where we do have a choice — as players, coaches, staff, the way we respond to certain things.”
The backlash against Solo since her outburst has been fierce, with many people wondering whether the often outspoken star had perhaps gone too far this time in drawing attention to herself and attacking a major figure in U.S. soccer history. Her comments come as the United States is working itself through Olympics pool play, with hopes for the gold medal after the team came up short on penalty kicks in last year’s FIFA World Cup Final against Japan.
The team’s popularity has been growing faster than ever since its World Cup run, with Solo getting one of the biggest boosts in the public eye. But her comments have not always helped the ethos of the team — or at least kept it free from distraction.
“On the field, it’s OK to make a mistake,” Sundhage said. “There’s no such thing as a perfect game. And sometimes you make a mistake outside the field as well — myself as well. I’ve regretted that I’ve said that or whatever, but at the end of the day, if you have good teammates and recognize it and say something that we are proud of, then it is easier to prepare for the next game — because it’s all about the next game.”
Solo has a past of going against the grain of the team. She was essentially shunned by her teammates after criticizing the goalkeeper that started over her in the final game of the 2007 World Cup. This time around, her coach and teammates are more supportive, even if they’re disappointed about the undue attention.
“We just wanted to get on the same page on the things that we are focused on,” Wambach said Sunday, according to CBSSports.com. “And the things that we’re going to be talking about, whether it be in the media or behind closed doors with your teammates … We have to appreciate different people’s personalities and their opinions. However, we also want to create a bubble [around the team] … because what really does matter is the results.”
Solo brushed of discussion about possible discipline after the meeting, tweeting that “we talked about our team deserving the best.” Sundhage said she didn’t tell Solo to stop tweeting or speaking her mind.
“I don’t punish people, and I don’t know what’s right or wrong,” Sundhage said.
She said that, despite Solo’s amount of attention in the public eye, she’s been prepared to play.
The team has traveled to Manchester, England, as the U.S. prepares to play North Korea in its final pool play game on Tuesday. The U.S. has already secured a spot in the quarterfinals thanks to its wins over France and Colombia.
Photo via Facebook/Hope Solo