HANGZHOU, China -- Controversy is almost as foreign to the United States women's national team as losing, but coach Greg Ryan's team found both all too easily against Brazil on Thursday.
A 4-0 loss in the Women's World Cup semifinals that wasn't even as close as the score indicated was bad enough, relegating the team to Sunday's meaningless third-place game for the second World Cup in a row. But the Americans also might have lost the goalie most assumed would be on the field next summer in the Olympics when they attempt to restore some measure of pride.
Hope Solo watched from the sidelines in the semifinal because Ryan benched her in favor of veteran Briana Scurry. And based on the words that both Solo and Ryan offered after the game, it's not clear what her future is with Ryan at the helm.
Breaking with a tradition that players who don't appear in games don't speak with the media, Solo offered a scathing indictment of Ryan's decision in a postmatch interview. Solo also said she would have saved some of the shots that got past Scurry, the goalkeeper for the 1999 U.S. World Cup championship squad as well as Olympic gold-medal teams in 1996 and 2004.
Solo, 25, who earned her starting spot when Scurry left the team following the '04 Olympics, took her lumps as a young keeper in over-her-head training sessions with a team of legends in 2000. Given the progress she made after that at the University of Washington and then as the starter for the national team, it's not surprising that she seemed frustrated at times when asked about the bond people expect her to have with Scurry, who was the biggest threat to take the job she felt she earned on the field.
Talking with the media the day before the game, Solo appeared visibly upset and confused by Ryan's decision, which she was informed of at a team dinner the night before, just 48 hours before the game.
"Of course I want to play, but again, it's coach's decision," Solo said Wednesday. "I didn't see it coming when he sat me down last night. However, again, everything is clear in hindsight, and looking back, I could see it happening."
Ryan, who said he had been contemplating the move for months, explained that it was based on Scurry's history against Brazil and a skill set he felt was more suited to Brazil's style. Entering Thursday's match, Scurry had not lost to Brazil (12-0, 0.41 GAA).
Solo, who had been strong in goal during three straight shutouts following a 2-2 tie against North Korea, has never played against Brazil. When the two teams played in New Jersey in June, she was home in Washington following the death of her father.
After Thursday's loss to Brazil, Ryan said he had no regrets about playing Scurry and praised her for keeping the team in the game even as it endured a barrage of Brazilian shots while playing with 10 players after Shannon Boxx's ejection for a controversial second yellow card.
The coach then offered words about Solo, who he said he spoke with earlier in the day, which took on new meaning in the wake of her comments.
"She's a young, very talented keeper who will, I'm sure, lead this team many years into the future," Ryan said. "So I'm very proud of how she's played, and she will continue to play in the goal for this team, I'm sure, down the road."
As innocuous and positive as that sounds, Ryan is not someone prone to either grand or pointed comments to the media. He is unfailingly positive about his team, as was again the case in the wake of the decisive loss. But in couching both comments about Solo's future with something less than definitive language, he left himself open to speculation that the future he is sure she'll have will come after his time with the team. After all, as long as he is coaching, he is the only one controlling that decision.
The immediate future for the United States is the third-place game against Norway on Sunday. Even before the postgame scuffle of words, it seemed unlikely that Solo would be back in net for that game after the emotional toll of the past few days. Now it would represent a remarkable bit of healing on Ryan's part.
Starting Scurry again is the most logical course of action, although in a game that means nothing and will receive little coverage on an NFL Sunday back home, even third keeper Nicole Barnhart might be an option to give the former Stanford star some experience.
What happens beyond Sunday is anyone's guess. Tempers flare and pride is wounded in the heat of battle, and it's entirely possible that any bad blood between Solo and Ryan, which at least on Solo's part is confirmed, will pass over the winter. At 36, Scurry is not a long-term solution, although she could presumably hold down the top spot through the Olympics if Solo isn't around. After that, Barnhart, Jenni Branam, UCLA keeper Val Henderson and North Carolina rising star Ashlyn Harris all might be options.
The best option remains Solo, who still hasn't lost a game for the national team since 2002. That's precisely why Ryan's initial decision to bench her was so fraught with peril.
Not that Solo is free of guilt in all this. As a competitor, Solo had every reason to feel slighted by the decision, and it's hard to fault anyone for offering candid answers to tough questions instead of toeing the company line. But publicly criticizing a teammate in the wake of a loss, as Solo appeared to do in suggesting she could have made the saves Scurry did not, is far murkier territory. It isn't likely to endear her to the teammates who suffered through the same loss without throwing anyone under the bus.
As bad as Thursday's loss was on the field, the controversy off the field made it the most disastrous day in the history of the United States women's national team.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's soccer coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.