Solo's polarizing persona is what makes her so crucial to the new league's fortunes. The last professional women's soccer league in the U.S., the Women's United Soccer Association, lasted only three seasons -- largely because it lacked edge. "The WUSA sort of had a focus on preteen, ponytailed girls who aspired to play soccer someday, and so their messaging was around 'cause marketing': 'This league is something girls deserve to have, and as a fan you ought to support this,'" says Tonya Antonucci, a former Yahoo executive and the new league's commissioner. "We're presenting an environment that's not about babysitting kids but is an opportunity to watch the best and be entertained by the best."At the 2007 World Cup, Solo was benched from a semifinal game against Brazil. Afterward she told a reporter that if she'd been in goal the U.S. would not have lost 4-0. She was subsequently banned from the rest of the tournament and the plane ride home.
More recently Solo caused a stir by refusing to wear a hot-pink padded goalie jersey designed by Puma, incidentally a sponsor of Women's Professional Soccer. She said it was girly and juvenile and unprofessional. Now she wears red.
It's interesting to speculate if WPS would attract more raucous, drunken fans -- which Zengerle believes is necessary for it to have some "edge" and ensure the league's survival -- if more players were like Solo. It's true she's more of a jerk than Mia Hamm, but she's still got nothing on Manchester United's Wayne Rooney.