Kevin Baxter: US Soccer contemplates a future without Hope

Hope Solo's days with the women's national soccer team may not be over, but they are certainly numbered.

Yet that doesn't necessarily mean we've seen the last of her in a U.S. uniform.

Solo was given a six-month suspension and her contract with U.S. Soccer was terminated last week over ill-considered comments she made following her team's quarterfinal loss to Sweden in the Olympic soccer tournament, a clear sign the federation has grown tired of Solo's inability to control herself.

She is eligible to be called up to the team in February, though it's unlikely she'll be invited back then despite the fact she's the best goalkeeper in the history of women's soccer.

In 15 years with the national team, Solo made 202 international appearances, winning 153 games and posting 102 shutouts. No one else is even close to any of those numbers _ nor will anyone else ever get close to those numbers.

But Solo also set a record for off-the-field controversy and chaos.

Over the last decade she has been charged with two counts of domestic violence, failed a drug test, was riding shotgun in a team van when her husband was arrested on suspicion of DUI, admitted she appeared on national TV drunk and was suspended from the team three times.

Given that track record, Solo's comments after the Olympic loss, in which she called the Swedes "a bunch of cowards," seemed mild by comparison. The difference this time is neither her teammates nor U.S. Soccer rushed to her defense.

Megan Rapinoe, an influential team leader, told NBC Sports she was "really disappointed" in Solo while Alex Morgan said, "I don't agree with the things that she said."

But a bigger factor in Solo's suddenly uncertain future with the national team may be the timing of her remarks. In the past, U.S. Soccer has tended to forgive Solo's behavior to keep her on the field in important tournaments _ as it did during last summer's Women's World Cup, when federation President Sunil Gulati ignored calls from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and others to dismiss Solo from the team after ESPN revealed damning details from her arrest on domestic-violence charges a year earlier.

However this time the next World Cup game is three years, not three days, away. That gives Coach Jill Ellis plenty of time to find a replacement for Solo, who will be 37 by the time the 2019 tournament kicks off.

And that makes this the most opportune time for U.S. Soccer to finally find fault with Solo's behavior.

"Taking into consideration the past incidents involving Hope, as well as the private conversations we've had requiring her to conduct herself in a manner befitting a U.S. national team member, U.S. Soccer determined this is the appropriate disciplinary action," Gulati said in announcing Solo's suspension.

Solo responded with a statement of her own: "For 17 years, I dedicated my life to the U.S. Women's National Team and did the job of a pro athlete the only way I knew how _ with passion, tenacity, an unrelenting commitment to be the best goalkeeper in the world, not just for my country, but to elevate the sport for the next generation of female athletes. In those commitments, I have never wavered. And with so much more to give, I am saddened by the federation's decision to terminate my contract."

Here's what happens next.

Rich Nichols, general counsel for the women's national team players association, will file an appeal, having called Solo's termination "excessive, unprecedented, disproportionate, and a violation of ... First Amendment Rights."

Ellis will begin auditioning new goalkeepers, starting during next month's friendlies with Thailand and the Netherlands. She may have to cast a wide net, though, since only two players called up in the last year _ Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris _ have played a game in goal for the national team and both will be over 30 by the 2019 World Cup in France.

Although Solo's future in the National Women's Soccer League is not affected by U.S. Soccer's actions, her salary may be. She will get three months' severance pay from U.S. Soccer, and her NWSL salary, which is paid by the federation, reportedly will not be affected. Next season could be a different story, though. On Saturday, Solo was granted an indefinite leave by her club, the Seattle Reign, but it's likely she'll return and continue to play well, challenging U.S. Soccer to kiss and make up.

Solo's detractors are correct when they say her inability to exhibit even a modest amount of self-control has damaged the reputation of a women's national team that has otherwise remained above reproach.

But Solo's defenders are equally justified in charging a double standard regarding the treatment of male and female athletes. Latrell Sprewell played eight more years in the NBA after choking his coach. Kobe Bryant played 13 more years for the Lakers after being accused of rape and Adam "Pacman" Jones was given a series of second chances in the NFL after repeated run-ins with the law.

Solo had her contract terminated after she expressed her opinion _ not a particularly unpopular one _ moments after an emotional game.

But despite all the lines that were drawn in the sand last week, Solo's future with the national team ultimately hangs on one thing: Can history's greatest goalkeeper be replaced?

If Ellis can do that, Solo will quickly fade away. If not, Solo better begin brushing up on her French because she'll need it for the next World Cup.