With the 2016 Olympics over for the United States Women’s National Team, I feel now is the right time to address the major talking point on this team – the goalkeeper position. Sure, Hope Solo may be the best American women’s goalkeeper of all-time, but if we learned anything in Rio, her time should be over.
For the first two games, she played strong in goal. Then Colombia happened, with two rather lackluster goals, resulting in a tie. She played well again against Sweden, even stopping a penalty kick in the shootout. So a bad game and a PK shootout loss should mean someone loses their job?
No, but then her post-game comments happened. Representing your country isn’t just about your talent. It’s about your attitude while wearing the red, white, and blue. Calling your opponents cowards for playing a technically smart game and beating you is unacceptable.
So that brings me back to Ashlyn Harris. Currently she is the third stringer behind Solo and Alyssa Naeher (more on her in a moment). When the rosters were announced and she wasn’t the primary backup, I was shocked. Here was a keeper playing at the top of her game, keeping a team that has problems scoring goals in playoff contention. Harris’s hand speed and ability to read the play develop is second to none.
Yet Jill Ellis kept Solo the starter and gave Naeher the backup gig. Nothing against Naeher in this column, but she is behind Harris in just about every category. When you watch these two play, Naeher gives you the “this is a solid keeper” opinion, whereas Harris gives you the “whoa – this keeper can win games on her own” feeling. Some keepers have that it factor and between these two, that goes to Harris.
And then there is her leadership ability. Harris is a hellcat, barking orders and demanding the defense follow her instructions. Defenses tend to do their own thing and require a strong hand to keep them in line. Solo has done this well in the past and Harris would be just as strong a presence in the net, without the off-field distractions.
Besides skill, there is also international experience to take into consideration. Granted it was with the U-19 team, but Harris started 39 games from the age of 16 and on with a myriad of shutouts and huge games. In 2002, she started 15 games and had eight shutouts. This is a keeper who from a young age hasn’t shied away from prime time international soccer.
Since joining the senior team in 2013, she’s played eight games, too. In the first three, she had two draws and a win against tough teams in Sweden, the Netherlands, and France, with two being contested in Europe. Since then, in the last five games, four have been shutouts, including against England on its home turf.
Maybe I’m biased, as I get to watch Harris and the Orlando Pride often, but I stand behind my opinions today. Maybe I’m just tired of the ongoing circus that is Hope Solo and want other incredibly talented players to get a chance — players with the skills, or maybe even better ones, than the current U.S. starter.
The next World Cup is in just under three years. It is time for USWNT to take the bold step and distance itself from Hope Solo. As I and many other Pride fans know, there is a very good keeper sitting on the bench who deserves her time to shine.
In 2019, when this team goes to France, I hope we are seeing Ashlyn Harris between the sticks, representing the red, white, and blue with class.