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What brings joy to Hope Solo? Being back with U.S. women's soccer team

Hope Solo looked like a movie star as she walked onto the pitch at Jeld-Wen Field on Wednesday morning. Wearing a black track suit and dark Nike sunglasses, Solo radiated the glamorous side of success.

'I love you Hope,' one male fan shouted.

Solo smiled and waved.

As she took off her warm-ups, the chatter from the stands turned to Solo's recent appearance on 'Dancing with the Stars.'

'I voted for you last night,' one fan called out.

'I voted for you 12 times,' one little girl said.

That took Solo aback.

"You voted for me 12 times?' she asked. 'Thank you!'

Perhaps no female athlete in the world today has captured people's hearts and minds more than Solo. If some athletes are dealt four aces, Solo has been dealt a royal flush. She has beauty, personality and incredible talent.

Solo also understands what she means to women's soccer and to all female athletes. As she talks about 'Dancing with the Stars,' it becomes clear that being on the show means more to her than moonlighting as a Hollywood celebrity.

'It is our obligation as female athletes and as female soccer players to keep growing the sport,' Solo says. 'After such a remarkable summer and inspiring the nation, it's a perfect window of opportunity to do just that leading us into the Olympics. And being in the mainstream media is helping us do that.'

It perhaps speaks to society's need for instant gratification that during a five-minute interview after the U.S. training session more than half of the questions were about a reality TV show.

But from her career at the University of Washington to her 100-plus caps on the national team, it is on the pitch that the real Solo shines through.

'It's like heaven coming back out here,' Solo says. 'It was a very stressful two nights out in Hollywood, and coming back here, it's Portland, it's outside. I feel so free. This is where I'm at home - on the soccer field.'

Solo was focused throughout the U.S. practice in preparation for Thursday's friendly against Canada at Jeld-Wen Field. In each of her movements in goal she seemed to demand perfection from herself.

Solo still has not forgotten what it felt like to lose the 2011 World Cup final to Japan in a shootout.

'We were 2 1/2 minutes away from (winning) the World Cup,' Solo says. 'And I am telling you that none of us are going to forget that loss in the final two months ago.'

As the goals Solo allowed against Japan showed, perfection in athletics is an elusive concept. Solo plays her position the way Jimi Hendrix played the guitar - with heart, guts and swagger.

'Any professional athlete should have that,' Solo says. 'We play because we want, not just to survive but to be the best. We want to win tournaments, win medals, win competitions. So why not shoot to be the best? 

"Sometimes, if you're not that confident you have to fake it until you make it. It's all about giving your team confidence, giving your defenders confidence and putting on a persona so to speak.'

It is easy to confuse Solo's swagger with arrogance. In the 2007 World Cup, she was benched in the semifinal against Brazil for 36-year-old Briana Scurry. The U.S. lost 4-0, leading Solo to give an interview in which she - perhaps justly - called out then-U.S. coach Greg Ryan for the decision.

'It was the wrong decision,' Solo said at the time. '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. And the fact of the matter is it's not 2004 anymore. It's not 2004. It's 2007, and I think you have to live in the present. And you can't live by big names. You can't live in the past. It doesn't matter what somebody did in an Olympic gold-medal game in the Olympics three years ago. Now is what matters, and that's what I think.'

Solo has moved past that moment. On Wednesday, she took offense to a reporter questioning her about being 'a loudmouth goalkeeper' and 'a loose cannon.'

'You're going back to '07,' Solo said. 'I've proven myself to be a very good teammate almost my entire career. You can focus on one mistake. Nobody else will. I am not a loud-mouth goalkeeper. I'm very much part of this team, looking to do good things, looking to next year's Olympics.'

After the World Cup, the U.S. took a relatively long, two-month break before reassembling. Solo admits she felt some nervousness when the team got back together. That vanished quickly, though.

'I had a lot of anxiety at first coming back to camp, taking two months off after the loss in the final which hurt and stung so bad and was really, really hard to get over,' she says. 'It was hard to turn that page. But once I stepped foot in camp, I was so filled with joy to see everyone again. Once I came back in, I was able to turn that page and focus on the Olympics.'

What does the goalkeeper want the U.S. team to do in the 2012 London Games?  Solo's answer is filled with all of the confidence and swagger that everyone has come to expect from her.

'This team speaks for themselves,' Solo says. 'We should win an Olympic gold medal. That's what we've set out to do. That's what we set out to do in the World Cup. So we're going to take it. We're going to let it inspire us and lead us through into the Olympics.'