KANSAS CITY, MO. (AP) - Hope Solo is kicking off her cleats for some dancing shoes.
It’s making her about as nervous as a World Cup final.
The U.S. goalkeeper and international soccer icon will make her sole-sliding debut on the newest season of “Dancing With the Stars” on Monday night, joining NBA star Ron Artest as the latest athletes to try their hand at the foxtrot, two-step and the Viennese waltz.
“I don’t think I should have been the first from the team to be chosen for the show because of my dance moves,” Solo confided. “Lauren Cheney can really bust a move.”
That may be true, but Solo is the one fast becoming a pop culture icon.
After losing in crushing fashion at the World Cup final in Germany _ a shootout defeat to Japan that has already gone down as one of the greatest women’s soccer games ever _ Solo has exploded into the public consciousness, recognized by soccer fans, sports fans and the general public alike.
She appeared on the “Late Show” with David Letterman along with teammate Abby Wambach, attended the New York City premier for the final season of HBO’s “Entourage” with teammate Alex Morgan, and landed high-profile endorsement contracts with Gatorade and Bank of America.
Solo is approaching 300,000 followers on Twitter, has embarked on numerous media tours to promote women’s soccer, conducted more youth clinics than she can count and, yes, had her share of marriage proposals from complete strangers _ flattering, and a little freaky.
Now she’s dancing with the stars.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” she said simply.
Solo is partnering with “Dancing With the Stars” veteran Maksim Chmerkovskiy on the popular ABC television show, which pits athletes, celebrities and other personalities in a dance contest in which viewer votes help determine the winner. Chmerkovskiy has worked with sports stars before: boxer Laila Ali, volleyball star Misty May-Treanor, and ESPN personality Erin Andrews.
“She’s going to do great,” Morgan said. “She’s a goalkeeper. I mean, she’s quick on her feet.”
She was in Kansas City this week for their first practice since their World Cup disappointment, and will be in goal Saturday night for an exhibition against Canada. The two teams play again in Portland on Sept. 22, just a couple of days after the first show.
“We’re all going to be watching it,” Cheney said. “It’s funny, because she never dances, not even in the locker room. I’m the one that’s always dancing. But I think she’s going to do great. She’s an athlete, and she’s a competitor, and I don’t think there’s any way she doesn’t do great.”
Solo danced around the pressure she’s feeling to perform well, but Cheney has picked up an edge of anxiety in her voice. Solo may be focusing on soccer this week, but …
“I think it’s starting to make her nervous,” Cheney said. “You can hear it when she talks.”
Solo certainly can’t hide the competitive streak that runs through her.
Rather than say she’s “rehearsing,” she calls it “training.” And she freely admits that anything worth doing is worth winning, whether that means getting her hands on a World Cup trophy, Olympic gold medal or a shiny disco ball that goes to the winner of a dance contest.
“Everything I do, I do to the best of my ability, and at the end of the day, it’s competition,” Solo said. “Yeah, it’s dancing, and it’s not my cup of tea, but I’m very intense and pretty passionate about wanting to do the best I can.”