By Simon Evans
(Reuters) - Ask an American to name one of their national team soccer players and the chances are that the women's team goalkeeper Hope Solo would be among the first people mentioned.
While women's soccer has grown in stature and gained more exposure globally in the past decade there are few female players anywhere who enjoy the profile Solo does.
Solo, who will turn 31 shortly before the London Games, enjoys several lucrative endorsement deals, reached the latter stages of the popular television show "Dancing with the Stars" and has also modeled in various magazines.
All of those activities have pushed Solo into the public eye both in her homeland and abroad but it is her performances on the field, more than anything else, that has endeared her to a generation of Americans.
With 116 caps for her country dating back to her debut in 2000, Solo has a career which has been punctuated with awards, trophies and no shortage of difficulties and controversy.
Last year she won the Golden Glove for best goalkeeper at the World Cup and the Bronze Ball as the third best player overall, despite her team losing the final in a penalty shootout to Japan.
That was another bitter World Cup disappointment for Solo who was dropped before the semi-final four years earlier and responded with a public tirade against the coach which, at one stage, threatened to end her international career.
The appointment of Swede Pia Sundhage as national team coach led to her recall in 2008 in time to feature throughout the Beijing Games where she shone as the U.S. went on to win gold.
Solo, who played for Swedish and French clubs earlier in her career, said she relished the chance to work with Sundhage.
"From the moment Pia stepped in, she changed the entire dynamic of this team," she said.
"A completely different philosophy, she is one of the more laid-back coaches I've ever had. A lot of American coaches want to be involved in every pass, in every play.
"She wants us to think and read the game for ourselves…every player likes to have a bit of freedom on the field. It brings the joy back to us, back to the time when we were little kids and just played for the hell of it," she said.
Repairing Solo's relationship with her team-mates, who had objected to her outburst at the World Cup, was one of Sundhage's first tasks.
"In order to win, we need good goalkeepers and I don't think any team could afford not to take a chance with a player like Hope Solo," the Swede said.
A serious shoulder injury in 2010 was the next obstacle Solo had to overcome but after an operation and intense rehabilitation program, she was back to her best and comfortably reclaimed her spot as number one.
"I've been through a lot of things in my personal and family life," Solo said in a recent interview with FIFA.com.
"That turned me into a fighter. I always strive to be the best I possibly can. I think it's my personality to overcome things, learn from them and become stronger, both personally and professionally. To be honest, I welcome those hardships.
"I don't fear them. I face them head-on and try to become a better person."
At five feet nine inches, Solo is relatively small for a goalkeeper but makes up for her lack of height with her outstanding agility.
Her importance to the U.S. team though goes well beyond her shot-stopping skills, she has awareness of the importance of distribution and she is an astute organizer of the back line.
Solo is heading to her third Olympics, she was only a back-up at Greece in 2004, and has only one thought on her mind.
"London 2012 is all about winning a medal. Not just any medal, the gold medal."
(Editing by Julian Linden)