We are counting down our most viewed sports articles of 2016, this is number 9, published on August 14.

No one quite does homerism during an Olympic Games like the Americans.

The likes of Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky have been celebrated like they invented free WI-FI, Coca Cola and the special sauce on a Big Mac all in one week by a US public that simply loves a winner.

National pride is at the forefront of everything the Americans do, so it was rare to see the Stars and Stripes turn on one of their own in the middle of this global sporting event.

But Hope Solo - the abrasive, Star Wars-surnamed goalkeeper of the US women's soccer team - isn't just any villain.


The two time gold medal-winning 35-year-old has regularly pushed the boundaries of what a star athlete can get away with as long as they're winning.

But her reaction to America's penalty shootout defeat against Sweden in the quarterfinals in Rio - in which the overmatched Swedes adopted an often-used overly-defensive strategy - saw her lambasted like never before.

"I thought that we played a courageous game," Solo said. "I thought we had many opportunities on goal. I think we showed a lot of heart. We came back from a goal down. I'm very proud of this team. But I also think we played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that."

There aren't many words in sport that carry the gravity of the word coward and Solo's summary immediately drew criticism.

Former Olympic and World Cup team captain Julie Foudy, now an ESPN commentator, called Sweden's conservative game plan "a tactic most outmatched teams take in soccer" and "tactically smart".

She said her countrywoman's rant was "ridiculous and classless, and it really doesn't represent the house that we built with the US team".

Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins said it was another example of Solo's flawed character.

"Let's face it: For every shiny marketing moment and big victory she's been a part of, she's given the US a nasty unwanted drama. The victories usually smoothed over her behaviour. Not this time. This time she went pure loser and lout," Jenkins wrote.

"Who is the real coward here? Solo gave up three regulation goals in the past two games, between a draw with Colombia and this loss. She tried to ice Lisa Dahlkvist on the final kick by changing her gloves, and then couldn't lay a hand on the ball. And she couldn't take responsibility for any of it; she could only lash out ...

"This may well have been Solo's final big international result as the US goalkeeper. That's probably for the best."

USA Today's Luke Kerr-Dineen went even harder. "Opting for a strategy that increases your chances of winning is not cowardly. It's smart and, actually, brave, because you'll have to endure comments like this from spoiled, take-victory- for-granted brats like Hope Solo if it actually works," he wrote.

"It's easy to play the little kid in the playground, who gets condescendingly patted on the head and sent away once it succumbs to its inevitable loss. It's far harder to stand up and fight. To dare is to do, as the saying goes.

"Hope Solo is the coward. She's the one who refuses to take ownership for being beaten by the better team."

Current US Coach Jill Ellis wasn't as direct, but also made it clear any attack on Sweden's game plan was uncalled for.

"They executed (a) game plan very well," Ellis said. "It's a matter of knowing how to use all the resources you have. And finally the most important thing is the result, not how to play."

But Sweden coach Pia Sundhage - who coached the US team to gold medals in Beijing and London and had a testy relationship with Solo - summed up the controversy best.

"I don't give a crap," Sundhag told reporters. "I'm going to Rio (for the semi-finals), she's going home."

This story was originally published on August 14 and was one of the ten most viewed articles in the nzherald sports section this year.