American run in World Cup marred by Hope Solo

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Iwould say this U.S. women’s World Cup soccer team is about as close to a mortal lock as you can get.

The World Cup championship game is 6 p.m. Sunday, with the U.S. playing nemesis Japan, and you will get no World War II analogies from me.

Japan, which beat the U.S. in a penalty kick shootout for the 2011 World Cup title, has made it to the final again by beating Switzerland, Cameroon, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Australia and England. Japan is not an upstart team but a known power.

You probably have no recollection that the winning post-regulation kick in 2011 was made by then-20-year-old Japanese defender Saki Kumagai, who is back with this year’s club. No matter, for what is important is that the U.S. powerhouse cannot say for an instant that it’s not taking Japan as seriously as a foe should be taken.

The U.S. women gained some measure of revenge for that 2011 defeat by beating Japan for the 2012 Olympic gold medal in London. But the team has not won a World Cup in 16 years, not since Brandi Chastain made that 1999 penalty kick against China, ripped off her jersey and slid on her knees on the grass, just like the guys do, only with a sports bra.

This 2015 U.S. team might be the strongest ever. It has beaten all comers and has not allowed a goal in the last 513 minutes of play. The only goal the women have allowed came in a 3-1 win over Australia almost a month ago.

And that brings us to the major issue that moral critics still have with this team. Hope Solo, probably the best goaltender in the world, is the final stopper for the U.S. defense. Though she hasn’t been deeply tested so far — except early on in the win over Australia — she is back there with her dark ponytail and giant gloves, always ferocious, always ready for what might be blasted her way.

The problem isn’t her play. It’s her off-field issues.

Women athletes have long wanted to have all the rights and freedoms that men do, and along with that equity, unfortunately, has come almost the same amount of mental, legal and ethical problems.

Solo has a checkered past, including being jailed last year after allegedly beating up her half-sister and her nephew. According to police reports from that incident, Solo taunted police, saying she could beat them up and that her necklace was worth more than one of them made in a year.

Her husband, former NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens, has had brushes with the law, as well, including an arrest in January on suspicion of drunk driving while behind the wheel of the team van.

Solo’s immaturity and possible alcohol issues might have coalesced when she wrote on Twitter back in 2012 that the aforementioned hero Chastain should ‘‘lay off commentating about defending’’ and goaltending ‘‘until you get more educated.’’

Back in 2007, Solo was thrown off the U.S. World Cup team by the coach partway through the tournament for causing dissension.

If we don’t like having trouble-makers around like former San Francisco 49ers and Bears defensive end Ray McDonald, then why have the problem females around in big-time women’s sports?

That’s the debate, at least. But for now, Solo has been keeping a low profile off field, and she has already weathered the earlier push to get her tossed from this squad.

I’m not sure how I feel about her participation, but I do know that if it’s good for the goose, it’s supposed to be good for the gander. And when a female jock like, say, WNBA star Brittney Griner and her female fiancé Glory Johnson begin fighting each other and get booked into jail on assault and disorderly conduct charges, well, we should deal with their transgressions just like we do with the guys. How exactly is Johnson’s beating at the hands of Griner any different from the beating Ray Rice gave his then-fiancé Janay Palmer, the one that got him thrown out of the NFL? Or the 90 days in jail Los Angeles Kings star Slava Voynov got for beating his wife?

The injuries may have been different in these cases, in all cases, but the intent likely is not.

The interest in women’s World Cup soccer is growing fast, with this final likely to be the most-watched women’s soccer match in U.S. television history.

Does it even need to be said? Best behavior, ladies.

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@RickTelander

rtelander@suntimes.com

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