Throughout the U.S. soccer team’s hair-raising ride to the Women’s World Cup final in Germany this summer, their leonine goalkeeper had her own sensational run on Twitter as the subject of the trending hashtag #marrymehopesolo.
“I have no idea how that started,” says the penalty-kick savior, with the embarrassed air of someone unused to such fervent attention. She’s less demure when it comes to the pitch: Solo caused a sensation at the 2007 World Cup when she publicly disagreed with coach Greg Ryan’s decision to bench her for the semifinal match—which the U.S. went on to lose 4–0. Within the culture of American women’s team sports, where esprit de corps is usually strictly enforced, Solo’s outspokenness was—though scandalously ill-timed—refreshingly honest. “People like to think we’re all best friends who go shopping together,” she says. “That’s smoke and mirrors.” As Solo prepares to help the U.S. defend its Olympic gold in London next summer, her fiery individualism will continue to make her a compelling figure long after the World Cup glow has worn off. Just ask Gatorade and Bank of America, both of which recently inked her to major endorsement deals, or Nike, which features her in a new campaign shot by Annie Leibovitz. Whether or not Solo can chalk it up to Twitter, her public image has been utterly transformed: “I went from being the ‘bad girl’ of U.S. soccer,” she says, “to America’s sweetheart.”