Solo is focal point of U.S. soccer's 'redeem team'

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Nearly a year after fueling one of the biggest controversies in U.S. women's soccer history, goalkeeper Hope Solo gets a chance at redemption against Brazil in the Olympic gold-medal match Thursday.

An angry Solo vented her frustration about being benched for last year's Women's World Cup semifinal against Brazil. Then-coach Greg Ryan surprisingly replaced her with veteran Briana Scurry, and the Americans suffered their worst defeat ever, 4-0, in Hangzhou, China.

"It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that," Solo said last September about the decision to start Scurry. "There's no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves. ... You can't live in the past. It doesn't matter what somebody did in an Olympic gold medal game three years ago."

Solo's comments created a major controversy. She was banned from the team for the rest of the Women's World Cup and was ostracized by her teammates.

Now, Solo is looking forward to her shot at Brazil in the Olympic title game at 9 a.m. ET Thursday (USA Network).

"I think it would be nice to play Brazil and reclaim what [we] wanted to have," Solo told reporters Monday after she helped the U.S. team to a 4-2 semifinal win over Japan.

Given the distractions, it may be difficult to remember that the Americans are the reigning Olympic champions, having won in Athens four years ago against Brazil in extra time, 2-1.

The talk is about the Americans avenging last year's World Cup loss to Brazil, and, of course, Solo's comments.

"That was 10 months ago," Solo said. "I don't think it's a personal thing anymore, I think it's the team wanting to reclaim what we could have gotten in the World Cup. It has nothing to do with anything personal right now."

Solo paid the price personally with her teammates. It took awhile, but her colleagues came around. They had to, because Solo won back her starting job. If the Americans had any shot of winning here, they would have to do so as a team. Leaving out the goalkeeper would be fatal.

"I feel great with my teammates," Solo said. "I've never been that player who is overly close to my teammates. But yes, now we are, and it's not just winning. It's living in a foreign country, living in an athletes' village."

The atmosphere has transformed dramatically since last year. Ryan has been replaced by Pia Sundhage, who has changed the team's style of play, as well as its psyche with her power of positive thinking. And, Solo's teammates say they have forgiven her.

"That's something we haven't even thought about since last year," said forward Angela Hucles, who leads the team with four goals. "That's definitely been put behind us for a long time. It only comes up when the media asks us questions about it."

The U.S. must contain the vaunted Brazilian attack that includes two-time FIFA world player of the year Marta, Cristiane (tournament-best five goals) and Daniela. That trio did not play against the U.S. during three friendlies earlier this year, all 1-0 American victories.

"There's going to be a lot of emotion," Solo told the Kansas City Star. "We have to maintain that and keep our focus. [Brazilian fans do] a great job of coming in and dancing and singing and creating an atmosphere and environment that can be intimidating. But I think we've seen that enough."

The gold medal match isn't just about second chances for Solo. Defensive midfielder Shannon Boxx, who was red-carded late in the opening half against Brazil last year, is likely to get the assignment to stop Marta. The Americans trailed 1-0 at the time and chased the game in the second half.

"I wouldn't say that we're focusing on one player on the Brazilian team," Boxx said. "I think Brazil as a whole is a very good team. They are technical and we're going to look at how we can beat them as a team. One part of that is to stop their top player. But as a group, one thing we've done very well is defending together as well as playing on the offensive side together. If we can do that against Brazil, I think we'll be successful."