Hope Solo has been suspended from the United States women's national team for 30 days, reportedly for letting her husband drive a team-owned vehicle while intoxicated. She'll miss out on games against France and England for sure, but between the latest incident, her now-dropped domestic violence charges, admitted love for serious partying and criticism of U.S. Soccer employees, it wouldn't be surprising if Jill Ellis (or someone above her) decided the team was done with calling up Solo altogether.
There are three decent options behind Solo, and it's not entirely clear which one Ellis wants to turn to. They all come with their pros and cons, and it's likely that two or three of them will be given opportunities to impress in February. Let's meet them.
Generally considered the U.S. No. 2 right now, the 29-year-old has been capped four times by the national team and is the best bet to get an immediate shot to replace Solo. She had a very good season for the Washington Spirit, a slight surprise NWSL playoff team, recording four shutouts in 19 games and saving more than two-thirds of the shots she faced. Back in 2011, in WPS, Harris won goalkeeper of the year while playing for Western New York Flash, winning the league title and finishing with the league's best GAA in the process.
If Ellis doesn't want to commit to one type of goalkeeper, or doesn't necessarily value athleticism over experience or vice-versa, Harris probably represents the best compromise option. If we were to rank the three goalkeepers on just about every criteria you could judge a goalkeeper on, Harris is probably the middle player in almost every one. The thing that might push her over the top is distribution, where she's arguably the best of the bunch, and certainly better than Solo.
The clear safe option, the 33-year-old Barnhart has already been capped 54 times. Though Harris appeared to pass her in the pecking order last year, Barnhart has been the usual fill-in for Hope Solo since Brianna Scurry left the national team scene. She's been a pro since 2004, she was the goalkeeper for the NWSL champions FC Kansas City last season and she's far and away the most experienced option to replace Solo. She's probably the best of the group at claiming crosses and set pieces, but likely the weakest shot-stopper.
In the eyes of most, Barnhart has started to show her age a bit. While she had a very good season for FCKC, she wasn't among the Goalkeeper of the Year finalists and has dropped in the pecking oder in Ellis' eyes. However, her eight shutouts were the best in the league, and she stopped a higher percentage of the shots she fast than any American but Solo. Are our eyes deceiving us? Maybe Barnhart hasn't actually dropped off at all.
Naeher's Boston Breakers were very bad in 2014, and the consensus is that they would have been far and away the worst team in the league with an inferior keeper in goal. She had to face so many shots that she made 40 (FORTY!!!) more saves than Harris, the American nearest her in that category. For that, she was named Goalkeeper of the Year.
By all accounts, Naeher is the most athletic and best shot-stopper of the bunch, in addition to being the youngest and least experienced. I say 'by all accounts' because, unlike the other keepers, I admit to having seen very little of Naeher. Eight NWSL teams put their home games on YouTube and the Breakers put theirs on a paid stream. I didn't pay for it. I'm sorry!
The reason Solo was still the American No. 1 to this point is she's the country's best keeper, so Ellis is going to be put into a very tough spot if she has to make a change. The good news for her is that she has three different goalkeepers, meaning the decision she has to make is not necessarily about which player is best, but what she prioritizes. If she thinks the team needs experience, it's Barnhart. If they need the most talented keeper available, it's probably Naeher. If she can't decide which is more important, Harris makes a great compromise.