Controversy aside, Solo simply the best
World Cup title makes Scurry No. 1
There are few things in soccer more enjoyable than watching Hope Solo go about the business of goalkeeping. No one does it better.
One of these days, we -- and she -- might be able to leave it at that.
There have been a great many words, probably too many, devoted to Solo's place in history. The arguing sometimes seems to come at the expense of appreciating. We are to blame for some of that, as controversy is the coin of the realm (good luck finding much time spent talking about the best right back of all time). Solo plays her part, too, regularly treating proverbial sleeping dogs the way drill sergeants treat sleeping recruits.
There is no right answer because best can carry any definition you choose to bestow upon it, though Solo may disagree. Where she is right is that on an absolute scale, she is the latest and best evolution, just as Usain Bolt is objectively better than Carl Lewis as measured by the clock. Solo's combination of size, agility, strength and command provided her with the potential to play the position as well as anyone has in a sport that had never been better. She is still doing that.
She has signature moments. There was the save against Marta in the 2008 Olympics and the full-extension stop in the shootout against the Brazilians in the 2011 World Cup -- the save that allowed Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe's stoppage-time heroics to matter. More than those, there has been sustained excellence on the field, not just for the United States but across three domestic professional leagues and European forays.
The piece missing from her résumé, as it is from that of Abby Wambach and others who debuted this century, is a World Cup title. Olympic gold medals count, and Solo has two of them, but the World Cup is different. All the more when the 1999 final remains arguably the seminal moment in women's team sports and a moment that would not have been possible without Briana Scurry.
Solo invites us, almost dares us, to pick a side. With her or against her. It needn't be that way. Solo or Scurry is philosophy, not algebra.
But if the task is picking one American goalkeeper, I'm picking the best one I've ever seen.
Graham is right -- at least about one thing. The debate about who is the better goalkeeper, Hope Solo or Briana Scurry, is more philosophy than algebra.
The career numbers for each are nearly identical. The 42-year-old Scurry ended with a lifetime record of 133-12-14 with 71 shutouts and an average of 0.66 goals allowed. In 13 years, she accumulated 173 caps, the most ever for a female goalkeeper. Solo, 32, is currently 111-7-16 with 67 shutouts and an average of 0.58 goals allowed. Based on numbers alone, you can't convince many folks that one is superior to the other. That would be like trying to convince someone that six is more than a half dozen.
Of course, there is one key difference in their bios, as Graham noted. Scurry won a World Cup in 1999 with the most famous version of the U.S. women's national team: the squad that eventually became known as the '99ers. Solo, on the other hand, has yet to win The Big One, although she has won two Olympic gold medals. (Scurry happens to also have two.)
So, in the end, this becomes a philosophical discussion. It becomes about whether you think the game of soccer has evolved so dramatically that the sport Solo plays now is more challenging than the one Scurry played 10 years ago, at the height of her career. This seems to be Solo's main argument when she takes to Twitter to challenge members of the 99ers.
During the 2012 Summer Olympics, Solo called out Brandi Chastain, a '99er who was doing the women's soccer color commentary for NBC Sports. Among other messages sent by Solo, she wrote, in an effort to discredit Chastain's knowledge of the sport, "The game has changed from a decade ago."
But I just don't think that argument holds water. The sport is certainly faster and stronger -- as all sports become as they evolve -- but the athletes also benefit from advanced nutrition and technology. By this logic, the '66 Ford Mustang can't be considered for a list of best-ever cars because it didn't have a GPS and electric windows. I believe we should judge athletes within the eras they played.
At this moment in time, I'm on Team Briana Scurry.