Hope Solo recently earned her 100th shutout in a 1-0 win against South Africa, making her the first goalkeeper ever to earn 100 clean sheets for their country, both on the and women's or men's side. Solo first represented the US in 2000 against Iceland and earned a shutout in her first match. Sixteen years and a total of 197 appearances down the road, she has entered unbreached territory that likely won't be matched for a long time.
It's hard to say who is even second on the list. Norway's retired goalkeeper Bente Nordby earned 172 caps and Gemma Fay, Scotland's current starting goalkeeper at 34 years old, is at 162. But neither federation has shutout stats for the goalkeepers although they are surely above 50. Brianna Scurry is our best guess, with 71 shutouts in 173 appearances. Even on the men's side, I couldn't find a solid number. It looks like Iker Casillas is still the leader, after passing Edwin Van der Sar in 2012. Casillas is likely around 80 clean sheets now with 167 caps.
Admittedly, I was curious about the stats behind Solo's record. It's not uncommon to see Solo waltz through a game with zero saves. Even in the 2015 World Cup, where she was named the best goalkeeper in the tournament, she only made fifteen saves over seven games. Tim Howard made more saves than that in just one game last World Cup. So how active was Solo in these 100 shutouts? Or did she just take goal kicks against weak opponents over the course of her streak?
First off, it should be stated that goalkeeper stats are abysmal. Shutouts are given to goalkeepers but clearly it's a team stat. You wouldn't say a center in basketball is good because their team's points allowed per game is low. When you dive in a little more, you're lucky find anything more than saves. Even with those, it's not uncommon that they're counting shots that weren't on target (see: Howard's previously mentioned game). On top of that, you never know how tough the shots were in a game. They could simply be softballs from distance or game changing saves. We don't know. So while I have a distaste for goalkeeping stats, saves and shutouts are what we have to work with. I put together a document on Solo's 197 caps, detailed with goals and saves when available. The numbers in red are not confirmed and are a guess on my end.
Looking at the doc, the first dark purple column is the current FIFA rank of the opposition. To be honest, I didn't want to go back through month-by-month and find the exact rating. Those numbers are likely not too far off from what that team was ranked at the time but if anyone wants to go through and find each ranking, be my guest. Using those numbers, Solo played against the 16th best team in the world on average. Her shutouts average out against the 18th best team. (For some cross-comparison, the USMNT finished 15th after the 2014 World Cup.) Judging by these numbers, the competition wasn't an issue for Solo, although her save numbers are a little low.
Of the 197 games, I could find an exact save number for 119 games. Most of the games I couldn't get a report for (the ones I could find are linked in the doc) or if Solo split time, I didn't know which saves belonged to her. Using those 119 games, US Soccer dot com says she saved 286 shots and was scored on 64 times. This gives her a 77.6% save percentage and 2.4 saves per game. In comparison, NWSL averages around four saves a game. I should add that, again, even though I don't like save percentages for the reasons listed above, she is very high for a typical save percentage. Luis Robles won MLS's Goalkeeper of the Year last year with a 65.6% save percentage, and only one starter ended up over 75% in 2015. If we lowball Solo with two saves a game for games we don't know exactly how many she had (or just one, if she only played a half) she still comes out with 76.1% and over 400 career saves.
Solo's cap count is hard to accurately process as well. While her 197 is more than any on the men's side, it's still just over half of Kristine Lilly's 352. Part of this is credit to the national team playing so many games, even if it was erratically.
(2016 should finish closer to 20-25.)
To help us get a better grip on her cap count we can look at a post from a couple years ago where I took a closer look at what 100 caps meant for the USMNT. To level the field, I created a simple stat that said playing 40% of the available games in a player's career should equal the equivalent of 100 caps. For players who didn't get a chance at 100 games, this would bump up their cap count significantly and also pull down players' totals who had an abundance of games to play. For Solo, her Weighted Cap Total (WCT) comes out to 131, dropping from 197. Essentially Solo had several more chances to get to 100 caps than other players, but that she still cleared the 100 threshold when her numbers were weighted. You can see several USWNT players on the second tab of the google doc.
Looking back on Solo's shutout achievement, it's best to view it by weighing both sides of the scale evenly. First, the USWNT have always been very good during Solo's tenure. The goal differential for Solo's shutouts is 2.71, and that's including 0-0 ties, which only happened nine times. She had a great defense in front of her and that definitely aided her. On the other hand, Solo clearly was really, really, really good. Her stats don't indicate that she lounged out in the sun for 90 minutes a game. She only had 10 clean sheets where she didn't make a save. And she was known to make some spectacular saves from time to time.
Even now with her turning 35 later this month, she's going to start for the best team in the world at the Olympics. Old age is settling in but she will most likely win another gold medal as the best goalkeeper in the tournament.
Nicole Corrochano does a good job of recapping Solo's record, "The 100-shutout milestone achieved stands for more than just a world record; it also signifies the dedication to the partnership between Solo and the national team as well as her relentless pursuit to be the best ever." The achievement is more of a confirmation for what we've always known about Solo: she was the best. And yes, to be fair, her stats are padded by playing on the best team in the world and getting so many opportunities to play for the US that other players don't. Corrochano also doesn't shy away from Solo's off the field issues that unfortunately will be an asterisk on her career. Solo is a polarizing player to many but at the end of the day, she'll be remembered as one of the best goalkeepers to suit up for the US and a standard for the rest of the world.