PORTLAND, Ore. -- While Hope Solo blocked shots during Tuesday's U.S. women's soccer team training session for an upcoming game against Ireland, 11-year-old Natalie Sacker stood near the goal at Jeld-Wen Field wearing a black Solo jersey with a cardboard sign at her side that read, "FC Salmon Creek Loves Hope Solo."
In other words, Sacker is a big Solo fan. She has a 6-by-9-foot Fathead poster of the goalkeeper on her bedroom wall in her family's Vancouver, Wash., home. A goalkeeper too, Sacker also writes notes reminding herself to do things Solo does as a player.
I'm happy in my life. I know the people closest to me are the only ones who really know what happened. ... I won't read any of the negative things about me or my husband. Like I said, we're happy, and ultimately that's all that really matters.” -- Hope Solo on the reaction to her recent marriage to Jerramy Stevens
So how did this girl respond two weeks ago when she read the bizarre story that her favorite player had married Jerramy Stevens just one day after the former football player had been arrested on suspicion of fourth-degree domestic violence?
Natalie simply told her mother, "I hope the marriage works out, and she is still a great soccer player."
"I think coming from someone that young, that's very wise," Stephanie Sacker said of her daughter's comments. "Not everything in your personal life is worth copying, but that certainly doesn't take away from you as an athlete and a role model in the sport. I thought that was very mature of her to recognize that. ...
"You hope for the best and hope there is more to the story that maybe isn't quite as dramatic as it seems."
Solo says it wasn't, and Stevens was not charged with any crime. In her first public appearance since the arrest and wedding, Solo told reporters Tuesday that she hadn't been hit and the media renders judgments "before all the facts are out there."
"That's a hard truth, and it's part of life," Solo said after the practice. "I'm happy. I'm happily married. I would never stand for domestic violence. I've never been hit in my life. It's unfortunate, but that's what the media can do.
"I'm happy in my life. I know the people closest to me are the only ones who really know what happened. The facts are out there if people really want to find them out -- they can go and find them out in the police report. But I would never stand for domestic violence. I won't read any of the negative things about me or my husband. Like I said, we're happy, and ultimately that's all that really matters."
Like Alex Rodriguez, Solo is one of those athletes who always seems to make as much news off the field as on it. I've often thought the supposed controversies, and reactions afterward, were due more to her being a woman than what she actually did. For instance, when she publicly criticized U.S. coach Greg Ryan for benching her in the 2007 World Cup semifinal, she was right. She should have started that game (the U.S. lost 4-0 without her), and people would have responded differently had the same comments been voiced by a man.
But Solo also can be overly defensive, such as when she overreacted to Brandi Chastain's critical on-air analysis during the 2012 London Olympics. Solo should have just let that go and concentrated on the games.
However, as with A-Rod, all this controversy does make Solo more interesting. U.S. Soccer might not always appreciate it, but Solo keeps the team in the spotlight during those long gaps between the Olympics and World Cups. And the team takes advantage of that publicity -- Solo, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan are the only players whose jerseys/T-shirts are being sold in the Jeld-Wen merchandise shop.
More importantly, unlike A-Rod, Solo delivers on the field in the big games.
"She's an amazing goalkeeper, one of the best in the world," Natalie said. "It's amazing to see her play and just dominate the game."
And that's what matters to Sacker, just as on-the-field performance matters to fans of almost every player. Girls should draw strength from what Solo accomplishes on the field and keep it separate from her private life. Not doing so almost always begs for trouble with a role model.
"I'm happy she's settling down," Natalie said. "She's had a crazy life, so I'm just glad she's found happiness."
Well, we hope she has.
"Yeah, we hope," Natalie said. "We really hope that she has a great life."