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Hope Solo

U.S. WNT Speak Ahead of World Cup Final Clash with Japan: July 14, 2011 Conference Call Transcription

U.S. Women’s National Team head coach PIA SUNDHAGE
On the biggest change she has noticed in Japan since the two Send-Off Series matches:
“First of all, they’re much better than when we played them. By saying that, I mean they are more sophisticated going into the attacking third. They’re still very good on the ball but now they look a little bit more dangerous. And a player like [Homare] Sawa has had a very good tournament.”

On what the U.S. team has to do to capitalize on the height advantage the team has over Japan:
“First of all, we need to continue to have good defense. The back four have done a very good job so far but I think they key is transition. When we win the ball, I think sometimes we’re too eager to play that big ball because there’s so much space but in the final we need to be smarter than that. We need to include players and add numbers in the attack, be a little bit more unpredictable because they’re well organized and they get numbers behind the ball and when they do that, if they do that, we have to be patient in the attacking third and we need to have players coming from behind to add numbers.”

On Hope Solo’s demeanor and leadership:
“Hope is one of many leaders and I think she’s even a bigger leader on the field. She has a unique position as a goalkeeper and the fact that she’s good with her feet. Everybody is comfortable playing the ball back to her. Also she has come up, a couple of times, with good saves. On the field she leads by example, which is important.

“Like everybody else, she’s a winner. She wants to win and we create a phenomenal atmosphere in that locker room. It’s a little bit crazy, to be honest. It works for us. It’s singing and talking about being excited to play the game.”

On whether she is worried about lacking possession against Japan and the turnovers by the U.S. team in midfield:
“We will address that but I would first like to talk about our defending. Those two teams keep possession very well and they are very good on the ball. I would say at times we control the game by our good defense. Now the message to the team will be that we need to keep possession a little bit better. We need to be more patient and if we do that, [Japan has] to work on their defending and defend a little bit more. Then I think we will create even more energy, we will run more and get more chances. It will be hard if we only defend and defend so that’s something we talk about: completing passes and finding the rhythm of the attack.”

On the growth of the team from struggling to qualify for the World Cup until now:
“I think because we had such a bumpy road, the fact that we had to play playoff games against Italy, we came out stronger and we’ve learned a lesson. We can’t take anything for granted and also we try to enjoy every day and be grateful for every day we have a game or training. We get together and we do it together. It will not be one player; it will be this whole team that will make this dream come true, I hope. Not only that, we started off the year with a loss against Sweden. We had thought we were playing very well but we struggled a little bit and I think this team has a great heart and spirit. We are humble enough to recognize when we need to change certain things. And we’ve been together for a while and I think tactically they are a little bit better than 2008. The reason is that we’ve been together. In 2008 we only had eight months with me as a new coach and the new coaching staff. Now they are used to the way we play.”

On how the team has been able to win when, at times, the other team seemed to have more control of the game:
“I think that says something about a big heart and that’s what [these players] do together. It wouldn’t be enough with just one player or one star. This is a team. If you’re in the locker room at halftime you can really feel the positive atmosphere that we’re going to do it. To be honest, I think we gained some confidence and energy in the last two games by just pushing through and coming out as winners. It says something about the team.”

On whether she thought when she was hired that the U.S. needed a change and how she went about making that change:
“When I came aboard in the 2008, I had seen in 2007 when the U.S. [finished third at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup]. There was a reason why, I guess, they hired me from a foreign country and they wanted a change. I felt that it was risky to make too big of a change because then we would lose all the confidence because we had been very, very successful in previous years. I think we found that balance in a very good way in 2008, and it started with the expectations of the back four. I really dislike when a player just pokes it out of bounds. I want some brave players in the back, especially when we have good goalkeepers; you just knock it down the goalkeepers instead of knocking it out of bounds. So players like Christie Rampone for instance, and when we had Kate [Markgraf], I expect them to keep the ball and eventually they looked to be more technical, I think, and they make good decisions. So we started with being comfortable with the ball and we started with good defending and defenders. The other thing is we had Abby Wambach back then and I thought that too many balls went to her head. She is a threat and you can see today she’s one of the best players in the world in the air, but I wanted her to be more unpredictable by playing the ball on the ground and trying to find the rhythm. Everybody talks about increased tempo but we also need to decrease the tempo in order to control the rhythm. During eight months, I think, we did a very good job with that.”

On whether she thought she could have a positive impact on the character of the group and how she brought about team unity:
“I think if you have positive expectations, very often it happens. I tried to coach what is healthy instead of trying to fix the mistakes. It is okay to make a mistake and I think that was an important statement to say that the biggest mistake you can make is if you don’t try. So you need relaxed players out there that try hard but if it doesn’t work, that’s okay, because you have teammates. The thing is if one player does something that’s not good, you have teammates around you. My glass is half full so when we watch video, for instance, I try to show them what works. So I coach the healthy way instead of saying, ‘Well, this is not good enough,’ or point out certain situations or players. I do the opposite because that feedback, I hope, will make them stronger, gain some confidence and I’m also telling them two things: this is good, try to do it again. So when you have an outside back going forward and she has a cross in the box, you watch that, it’s like ‘just double it. Try to do it again and again.’ For me, it’s fun to coach like that and you have happy people around you.”

U.S. goalkeeper HOPE SOLO
On this team forging its own identity:
“I think it’s an evolution of the game.  Whether it’s 12 years later or whether it’s four years later, each team really wants to have their own identity. There are different players, different personalities. They play differently. So 12 years later you expect the game to have grown, you expect the players to have grown.  It is hard to be always compared to the ’99 team when we are so incredibly different and the game has come so far. But, with that said, we know what they have done for the game. We know that they really paved the path for us. It’s something that we have really accepted.”

On the influence Pia has had on the team and how has she reshaped it:
“From the moment Pia stepped, in she changed the dynamics of this team. But she really wanted to push the players to start being creative and thinking for themselves on the field. I think a lot of American-style coaches like to be more involved with every pass and every play. She likes to set back.  She has said, ‘you guys are creative, you’re soccer players.’ And she wants us to think and read the game for ourselves. She makes us think when we watch films, she makes us dissect the game so that when we step on the field we can think for ourselves and she does not have to stand on the sidelines saying cross the ball to Carli, look up to Abby. She really just lets the game come to us.”

On whether it is this something she likes:
“Is it something that I like? Yeah, it’s the freedom to play the way we feel the game needs to be played. Of course we need guidance and we need her expertise, and she has done a great job in doing that to change the tactics whether it’s at halftime or on the substitutes that she has made.  And I think you can see that on the impact of the games with the decisions that she has made. But every player likes to have a bit of freedom on the field. It brings the joy back to us, back to the time when we were little kids and just played for the fun of it.”

On the effect social media has had on this tournament:
“You can see for yourself the effects that social media has had.  It’s pretty clear-cut. The numbers on my own Twitter account, somebody just told me, went from 10,000 to over 100,000 followers. So it’s obviously huge and I think, again, it’s the evolution of, not just the sport, but an evolution of the times. I don’t think it’s a distraction. This team, we have a mentality – from day one we came for one reason. It wasn’t just to beat Brazil in the quarterfinals.It wasn’t to make it to the final. Our one and only goal is to win this tournament. And I think people are staying pretty true to that.”

On the team’s spirit and the crazy atmosphere in the locker room:
“You got people that sing, people that dance. You got crazy music going.  You got people trying to pump people up. It can happen in any locker room. It’s quite fun. You got many different personalities. There are people who are a little more focused, more intense and people like me that might stay a little more to themselves. It’s the things behind the scenes that really make this tournament fun and are really the stories we are going to remember.”

On Becky Sauerbrunn’s start:
“I am so impressed with the way she came into this game.  Not having very many international games, definitely not having major tournaments under her belt. She came into the semifinal game against one of the most brilliantly attacking teams and stepped in with all the composure in the world. Her authority to make passes on the attacking side of things, of course her ability in defending, was superb.  I think the entire team, and of course Pia, had confidence her. The minute Buehler went out we knew that Becky could duck in and do a great job.  I’m very, very impressed with her ability to do that. There really aren’t many players with that little experience who are able to do that. So, my hat goes off to her.”

On the creativity of the Japanese offense:
“It is pretty clear to most of us that we are not going to see the same Japan team that we saw the last couple of friendlies. They are playing for something bigger and better than the game. When you are playing with so much emotion and so much heart, that’s hard to play against. They are already a brilliant team on the attack, they put numbers forward. They pass the ball around.  They’re starting to take more outside shots than they have in years past. I think it’s going to be an incredible final that people didn’t expect to see.”

On being an important part of the team, but slightly separate as the goalkeeper:
“We use our hands, everything is different, and the mentality can be different. But at the end of the day you have to know your system. You have to be in with your defense, you have to know your defenders and it’s still a team sport. You have to have a connection with the 10 other players on the field. Whether you see it or not, Abby and I have to connect. I have to know when she’s making a run, when she wants the ball over the top. You see Abby coming back on set pieces and her and I have to have good positioning on set pieces or corners. So, as much as people want to make the comparison that goalkeepers are off on their own quite a bit, it is very much a team sport.  Especially with how the game has evolved in the fact that goalkeepers need to help build the attack, goalkeepers need to be better with the ball at their feet and obviously organizing your defense.  They are a big part of the team and I think long gone are the days where the goalkeeper stands on her line and twiddles her thumbs.”

On appearing in her first final in three World Cups:
“First of all this team fought through so much adversity in that game against Brazil. Obviously, we fought through a loss in the first stage. That being said, the Brazil game was really a confidence builder for us because we believe we can be dealt any hand, be dealt any situation, and we can actually come through and come out on top. For me, that just bodes well for all the players on this team and the coaching staff who makes the decisions they’ve made throughout this entire tournament. They’ve made some substitutions that may have been the most influential changes of the entire tournament. But I think getting to the final is one thing and winning is another. [Getting there] isn’t good enough for me. It doesn’t matter if I came in third place in ’03 and third place in ’07. Getting to the final is just one part of having our dream come true and we want to make sure we are standing on top of that podium on Sunday.”

On staying grounded after the plaudits and personal recognition:
“All of that stuff: the goals, the awards; it’s all ego-based, individualistic stuff that I’m not even going to acknowledge until this is all over. The only way we are going to win is to do it together. The only way to put ourselves in a position to be world champions is to continue on the same path we have been on. If we start thinking about the awards and the ‘what-ifs’, we lose sight of what’s important. And what’s important is to stick together and be a team. A team which has grown and become stronger as this tournament has gone on. I think you’ll see a strong, fighting team come Sunday.”

On her inspirations through the years:
“At the age of seven, I was thrown in a hockey goal with goalie pads and told to stay there. I was put in positions were my competitiveness was being taught at a young age. Moving through the years, I’ve had ups but I’ve had a lot of downs too. Those losses in world championships and my leg break in ’08 – all of those things have fueled the fire within me. In this tournament, I think you’ve seen a little bit of that fire coming out in my passion and my play. This team has also shown a lot those attributes and accomplishments.”

On her how she is feeling physically for the match on Sunday:
“It’s funny because there have been some questions about my fitness and my Achilles just going through five games at 90 minutes –well there was more than 90 minutes in that one game – But I think if you are feeling pain at this point, going into a World Cup final, there’s something wrong as a soccer player because this is the pinnacle, the dream, the goal that we’ve all set. Collectively speaking, we have unfinished business. We’re in the final. We have a very good chance of being world champions and it’s going to take a good performance on Sunday to ensure that.”

On how Pia’s coaching style has impacted her game:
“Pia is just a great leader for us to follow. Whether it’s my head or Hope’s right arm or Rachel Buehler’s body Buehl-dozing people all over the field, every single person here  –  Pia as our leader and the equipment mangers – we all have a role. As long as we can all fill those roles, it doesn’t matter who is scoring the goals and it doesn’t matter who is saving the shots because we have to do it together and that’s the only way this is going to keep going in the direction we want it to.”

On how she views her role as a role model for young female athletes:
“We’re professional athletes, something not a lot of women have the privilege to experience. And for me, to go on doing something so amazing, it’s our job and our duty as women and professional athletes to inspire and give these girls a platform to inspire themselves. It’s something the ’99 World Cup team did for me. It’s something I’ll never forget and it’s almost a pay it forward kind of system at this point. A lot of people ask ‘is it a burden because you have all these kids wishing to be you?’ I don’t call it a burden. I call it a responsibility and it’s one the rest of the team and I take very seriously. I think for the ambition of those kids, this World Cup title would do wonders and hopefully even more professional women athletes come down the line.”

On stepping up and performing in crucial moments:
“The biggest thing was that I knew the chances would come. There are always two sides to scoring with your head or shoulder: there’s got to be good service. There’s got to be enough craft from another player on the team. On the Brazil goal, there were a number of players involved that made that happen. What makes me capable of doing it under certain circumstances? Honestly, I don’t really know. I was put in positions to score goals and my teammates put me in those positions. I give them more thanks than maybe they even know. But, as I said before, it’s not about my head or Hope’s arm; it’s about the collective. In general, if you have the ‘we’ mentality instead of the ‘me’ mentality, you’re more likely to win and win in ways which inspire people. And that’s what this team is doing. And that’s what I’m proud about.”

On feeling the impact of their accomplishments back in the U.S.:
“Technology has allowed us to see the response and see it with our own eyes. The goal against Brazil, the win against France, people are literally jumping out of their seats. People are emailing, tweeting, texting, you name it. Every type of technology is being used and I can’t tell you how important it is having that twelfth man – not to say that we haven’t and haven’t had a large crowd at the stadiums, because we do. The fans back home and the energy of millions of people back home is something to be reckoned with.  Not only that but they are Americans and we’ve won over the heart of many Germans. It’s an amazing accomplishment to be where we’re at, on the doorstep of a world championship. We feel the support and we need it. In some ways, it’s something that might propel us to victory on Sunday. We hope people watch. We hope people keep supporting us. And we know what the result is: we’re going to make America proud.”

On the growth of the game:
“I think this World Cup has just been a really great showcase of how far Women’s Soccer has come across the whole world. Like you were saying France and Japan and many of the countries they’ve just played amazing soccer. It’s really cool to see countries make it to this level of the tournament that maybe haven’t been here before. So that’s just a great sign of where soccer is going around the world. Also, all of the Quarterfinal games with the penalty shoot-outs and the over times made for such an intense Quarterfinals and I think that made for some really exciting soccer.”

On not facing Sweden:
“I think we were ready to face whatever opponent that came along. Sweden’s a great team, Japan’s a great team. We’re just excited to be in the final and we’re ready for that game.”

On Japan’s status as the sentimental favorite:
“Japan has obviously gone through a lot in the past few months and it’s been how their country and team have recovered from that. I definitely think that the world feels a lot for Japan and as we do as well. We actually played Japan in some of the game’s leading up the World Cup where we had a group charity event where we signed some jerseys. And I think that, that’s our sentiment too, we love Japan, and they have gone through a lot.”

On the connection with the players and Pia:
“I think Pia has done a wonderful job and she’s always had a really great connection with the players. First and foremost I think she’s just so positive and encouraging to us. She makes us feel free when we’re playing on the field and just makes soccer fun out there. So when you have a coach that does that, it just really helps you play to the best of your ability. So Pia has been great at leading us in this tournament and as long as she’s been our coach.”

On what the U.S. learned from the May games against Japan:
“I think it’s been great that we have faced Japan recently. They are an incredibly technical team, great passing game, crafty and just a very connected technical team. So it’s good for us to have seen that before. I think HAO did very well in those Japan games so I hope that she is able to have a similar performance. I think HAO always comes out with such passion and intensity and I’m sure she’ll bring that to the final as well.”

On the support from people back home in the States:
“Personally my Facebook page has been very popular from all of my friends and supporters, so that’s been really cool to see that outpouring of support. And definitely with the technology today it’s been easier for us to feel what’s been going on back in the states. Although I still think I personally maybe haven’t quite been able to see it exactly since we’re not at home, but I definitely have felt so much support and it’s been great to have that from home.”

On sitting out during the France game:
“Watching the game was difficult, but at the same time I felt very much a part of it. It was awesome when we scored my teammates on the bench, I was kind of sitting behind the bench in the staff section and they all ran over and gave me high fives. It was really awesome to feel that support and to feel so connected. It was still hard to watch, but I felt just as part of it as anybody else out there, so that was awesome. I think that Becky did an amazing job; she’s just such a talented and amazing player and so poised and composed to just step up in there kind of last minute. She’s awesome. So I was really proud of how Becky performed.”

On what it’s like to play teams that are smaller, lighter and quicker:
“Japan is definitely an incredibly technical team and that is their game. They are not sending in a ton of air balls, they are playing to their strengths and that is their passing game and their skill on the ball. So you always have to be aware of that aspect of their game and try to break up their 1-2 passing or being careful on your feet. Just being aware they might try something tricky or crafty on the ball and knowing their strengths.”

On Japan’s progress to the final:
“I just think watching these games as we’ve been here. Japan has so much momentum and is playing so well right now. It is definitely an amazing Japanese team out there right now and I think we are very aware of that and have the utmost respect for them out on the field.”

U.S. defender ALI KRIEGER
On the freedom of Pia’s coaching style:
“Pia’s an excellent coach. She brings a little European style to things and I think we’ve been really successful since she’s come on board. We really respect her as a coach and she’s very motivational and wants us to be better. She gives us that creativity and freedom on the field that I think is good because everyone is has their own unique style and we actually find a way to play together. We bring a little bit of individuality to each one of our games and I think when Pia allows us to do that, it brings nothing but success. As long as we play as a team and we’re successful, it will continue. I think it’s only good.”

On her biggest cultural challenge in Germany:
“One big difference was how direct the culture is, along with the people in Germany. You need to have tough skin because they’re direct and honest. Obviously now I’ve grown used to that and I actually like it. They just tell it like it is. They are a bit blunt about things. They’re very organized and well-mannered and I think that, not to say that we aren’t, but it was a shock. I would take some things a little bit too personally not only on the field but off the field as well. But they were just honest so I had to find a happy medium and grow some thick skin in the first few months.”

On disruptions with the backline:
“Christy Rampone is our go-to girl in the back and she keeps us together.  Obviously, she is amazing as a defender. She’s not only our captain, but she steers the team from the backline. I think that we just have great communication and it doesn’t matter who subs in because we have such great depth on this team. When Buehler got a red card, Becky [Sauerbrunn] jumped in for this game and did an excellent job. I think as long as we work together as a group, and stay together as a group, nothing can get past us. I credit all the girls on the team because we have each other’s backs. We have so much depth on the team that it really doesn’t adjust too much. We all know what we want and we all keep on the same page. As a backline we stay strong, have good communication, and we figure it out and stay strong together as a group.”

On potential problems with Japan’s style of play:
“Yeah I think they’ve been one of the biggest surprise teams. Obviously I knew before coming into the tournament they’d be very good. Luckily we did have our two games with them before the tournament in Columbus [Ohio] and in Cary [North Carolina]. We played them and we beat them both games 2-0 and luckily we had a chance to see how they play to help get us prepared. They are a technical team with very quick and crafty players that move the ball really fast. The speed of play is going to be a bit quicker and they like to play a passing game. I think we’re going to have to figure it out and be smart and communicate once again and defend as a collective group. But it will be a great game and we know them pretty well so hopefully we will be successful.”

On support for the U.S. Women’s National Team:
“It’s been amazing and totally overwhelming. As the tournament’s gone on we’ve obviously gotten a little more support because they’re more interested in it and the news and media have been on top of things. We’ve been getting messages on every social media outlet from Twitter to Facebook and emails and blogs. Everyone has been giving us shout-outs and support from home is behind us 100%. People are having viewing parties, including all of our friends and family at home who unfortunately have not been able to make it. It’s been really overwhelming and amazing and it gives us all motivation to play really well.”

On her Frankfurt homecoming:
“I think that arena can only bring me luck because when I played with Frankfurt in UEFA Cup Final in ’08 we beat Umea which Marta was actually a part of at that time. We won so I think it’s going to bring us some luck and this is a dream come true. I thought it was possible for us to be in the final but actually living it and really enjoying it with the team is a bit of a diff story. It’s definitely a dream come true for me especially living here for the past three and a half years and enjoying Frankfurt showing the girls around a little bit, hopefully the next couple days we can get out into town and show them around a little bit more but soccer-wise, it’s unreal and it’s an amazing feeling. I can’t wait for the game, to walk out on the field and just be in Frankfurt and hopefully win. It’s been an unreal experience so far and to end in Frankfurt with hopefully a win will be an amazing dream.”