Hope Solo: Maksim Chmerkovskiy 'Stood Up for Me'
10/31/2011 AT 07:00 PM EDT
"He's the only person who has seen my struggles – not the producers, not anybody else – and it's been a transformation," Solo tells PEOPLE.
"To put somebody down when they haven't even recognized how far they've come, I think Maks wasn't okay with that. And he's a true teammate and he stood up for me and I appreciated it."
After Len Goodman criticized Solo's rumba as her "worst dance of the season," Chmerkovskiy had a heated exchange with the judge.
"I don't think there are any hard feelings," Solo said of the controversy. "All the drama makes for good TV."
Making good television isn't always easy for the soccer star, who admits she's felt at times like a fish out of water.
"Every single person has been in front of the camera – has been an entertainer. They know how to turn it on and turn it off," Solo said.
"I have no dance experience. [Frontrunner] Ricki Lake's put in a ton of hard work, but she's been on Broadway. [Favorite] J.R. [Martinez] has a dance background as well ... I'm not in the entertainment world. And this is what the show was originally all about."