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With Solo, US Soccer again takes easy way out

No significant games coming up. No big revenue streams at risk. And as a result, no chance of compromising a women’s soccer empire.

You think Hope Solo’s six-month ban from the U.S. national team announced Wednesday had anything to do with justice? No. This had everything to do with convenience.

For nearly a decade, Solo has been the wart that keeps growing back. Rarely does a year pass in which she doesn’t disappoint with her words or actions.

The problem is, disciplining her has generally conflicted with U.S. Soccer’s objective of winning titles and cashing checks. But now that it doesn’t, the brass is dropping the hammer like it’s 200 degrees.

Nearly two weeks after calling the Swedish national team “a bunch of cowards” following a loss in Rio, Solo is on the receiving end of a half-year ban. The goalkeeper’s contract with the USWNT is terminated and her reputation is further stained.

But don’t for a second think this punishment would have come down if Solo was still needed. In fact, she didn’t do U.S. Soccer a disservice with her comments — she did it a favor.

This was a perfect opportunity for an organization to feign intolerance despite tolerating worse in the past. This was a contrived display of strength on the heels of weak moment after weak moment.

Suspending a player from the USWNT now is like suspending a kid from trick-or-treating on Nov. 1. This isn’t a sanction for the 35-year-old Solo — it’s a vacation.

In case you need reminding of Hope’s miscues over the years, here’s the highlight reel. In 2007, she publicly skewered national team coach Greg Ryan for replacing her with Briana Scurry in goal at the World Cup, accusing him of living in the past while ripping Scurry’s performance. During the London Games in 2012, she blasted women’s soccer icon-turned-broadcaster Brandi Chastain on Twitter, saying she felt bad that fans had to press mute during Chastain’s commentary.

In January of 2015, Solo was the lone passenger in a team van when her husband, Jerramy Stevens, was cited for driving under the influence at 1:30 a.m. And seven months earlier, she was arrested and charged with fourth-degree assault against her sister and nephew, reportedly telling a police officer that her necklace cost more than his annual salary.

Still, while each of these actions sullied Solo’s public image, they didn’t impact the national team’s performance. But only because U.S. Soccer wouldn’t let them.

After Solo’s arrest, U.S. Soccer launched an “investigation” in which it reportedly failed to contact any alleged victim, prosecutor or police officer involved in the case. And after the team-van incident, she was suspended a mere 30 days, which meant she returned four months before the World Cup started.

Let me ask you: If Solo made her “cowards” comments during pool play, is there any chance she would have been forced to sit during the knockout rounds? Please. Ryan Lochte becomes ambassador to Brazil before that happens.

Sorry, but morality was not the motive behind this suspension. This was a no-brainer PR move involving a 35-year-old who had likely already played her final Olympic and World Cup match. If character came before championships, we would have seen reprimands that actually jeopardized the USWNT’s chances on the field. That was always too much to ask.

It’s one thing to be an outspoken athlete. Lord knows we could use more of them. But there’s a difference between being a controversial celebrity and a petty, ungracious bully.

Hope Solo has been a problem for a while now, but she has also been the best female goalkeeper in the world. And in the eyes of U.S. Soccer, the latter was all that mattered.

U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo was suspended from the team for six months Wednesday for what U.S. Soccer termed conduct counter to the organization's principles. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS