Nearly three months after her World Cup fell apart, Hope Solo still is pained by the experience.
In her first public comments since a brutally frank TV interview in which she criticized her benching, Solo told The Associated Press she never saw it coming and wasn't prepared for it.
"I had felt as though my childhood dream basically had been ripped away from me," she said.
The starting goalkeeper for the U.S. soccer team in China, Solo played well in the opening round and quarterfinals. But then coach Greg Ryan benched her for veteran Briana Scurry against Brazil, and the Americans were routed 4-0.
After the loss, Solo said: "It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that. There's no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves. ... You have to live in the present. And you can't live by big names. You can't live in the past."
Ryan dismissed Solo from the team. She wasn't allowed on the bench for the third-place game, did not participate in the medal ceremony and flew home from China on her own.
Until Thursday, Solo had only spoken with close friends and family about her ordeal. As she prepares for a training camp in Carson, Calif., where she will mingle with many of the World Cup players, Solo spoke to the AP by phone.
"It is a little difficult to relive that," she said. "Mentally, I was full of all sorts of emotions. The World Cup was the only thing that kept me together after the death of my father [in June], kept me fighting and together and dedicated to the game.
"Moreso, the moment I realized we didn't have the opportunity to win the gold medal, my world came tumbling down. I had nothing to immediately give back to my father. I was wound so tight emotionally, and the moment after the loss I broke."
The worst part, Solo said, was her comments seemed directed at her teammates as well as at Ryan, who recently was replaced at coach by Pia Sundhage.
"Of course I know I have some friendships to rebuild and teammates to rebuild relationships with," she said. "But there is nothing I can go back and do.
"Never did I intend to put down a teammate, and that is the thing that hurts the most. I always have respected and will respect Bri. And that is the thing that hurts me the most."
Solo issued an apology through U.S. Soccer just before an exhibition tour against Mexico in October. She and Scurry were together during that series, along with most of the World Cup players.
"I have reached out to her, but beyond the Mexico series we have not really spoken, which is not unusual with my teammates, because we're often not together for long [stretches]," Solo said.
"I have spoken to a handful of different teammates here and there at different levels. In the end, we are all professionals and have a common goal to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. I can only hope we put our differences aside because we have a job to do.
"It's important we respect each other on the field; we don't have to be best friends off the field."
The 25-year-old keeper from Richland, Wash., chuckled at the irony of the Olympics, for which the Americans must qualify in April, being staged in China.
"China is going to bring back a lot of memories for me, no doubt," she said. "But I've been through a lot of worse things in life."
Particularly the death of her father, Jeffrey. Would getting that gold medal in the Olympics ease the pain from the World Cup fiasco?
"My father was even more excited about this World Cup than I was," she said, her voice cracking. "Looking back, it is not just gold medals that I have to celebrate his life and give back to his passing. If I never see a gold medal in my life, I will be doing what I can to make my father proud."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press