During the holiday break, Saint Louis Athletica captain and U.S. Women's National Team (U.S. WNT) co-captain Lori Chalupny took some time to talk about highlights from 2009 and how the 2010 Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) Draft will impact the league and her team.
KG : How has the offseason been treating you?
LC : It's been good. I found a little bit of time to take a break and re-energize the body. And then I was at school, finishing up my degree at [the University of North Carolina]. So it was a really good opportunity playing with the team a little bit, with the UNC team.
A bunch of [WPS players] were there, Heather O'Reilly, Kacey White, Kendall Fletcher, Yael Averbuch...we probably had about eight or ten people when we went out and play pick up. So just some soccer, and also got some of those credits knocked out as well.
KG : You mentioned the UNC team. How do you think they performed at the NCAA tournament?
LC : I was really, really proud of them. Especially being around them this season. They picked a couple of bumps along the way during the season, but it also comes down to high performance in the tournament, when it matters. And it's kind of a good lesson learned, to just keep fighting and always believe that in the end it will come out victorious.
So I think they had a great season, they played really well at the finals, and with a world class goal. So that's always good to see.
KG: They seem to like defeating undefeated teams in the final.
LC: Yeah I heard that! I was watching the game on TV 'cause I was in California with the national team...but yeah I heard that they had beaten undefeated teams, which is incredible! It's good for college soccer as well. You know, you can see there's so much parity, and teams coming through undefeated. That's a huge accomplishment.
KG : How do you think this crop of college seniors will do at the WPS Draft next month?
LC : The draft will have an incredible group of people. I mean we've got, what, six or seven people with national team experience coming out this year alone so it's gonna be very interesting to see where everybody goes and how everybody fits in with their teams.
I'm sure they will all make impacts in their first season so it's gonna change the dynamic of the league for sure. But it's very interesting.
KG : You've been training with the national team as well in the offseason. For the Germany game, you had training camp in California, and then you went back to school in North Carolina, and then you flew to Germany...seems kinda hectic isn't it?
LC : (Laughs) I guess I'm kinda used to it by now. The whole travel, and just coming from all different places, trying to get training in and all that. But, yeah, the trip to Germany was really, really good for us. It was nice to be able to go to Germany and kind of see the lay of the land and get used to that 'cause that's where the next World Cup is.
And then we played an incredible game against Germany with, I think it was 30,000 fans in the stadium. So it was a good overall trip, good atmosphere, and a good preparation for the World Cup.
KG : You played in one of the World Cup stadiums with 30,000 fans, most of them cheering against you. How did that feel?
LC : It was exciting. Especially at this point when we're a year and a half out from the World Cup. To get that kind of experience, you don't experience a packed stadium cheering against you every day of the week.
It's definitely something to get used to so it was a perfect build up to the World Cup for us. And to come up with a win in that kind of atmosphere, it was just perfect for us.
KG : Defense was a huge factor in winning the game. Was it hard communicating with your fellow defenders and (goalkeeper) Hope Solo in that packed stadium?
LC : Yeah you're screaming at someone who is five yards away and they still couldn't hear you. So that's another one of those things that you don't get to experience until you're in these big games.
It was great that we could kind of work on non-verbal communication and just being aware of your teammates, kinda being all in the same page even before the game began so that we knew what we're trying to do in our game plan. So it was good to get that experience for sure.
KG : It must have helped that Hope is also your teammate in Athletica.
LC : For sure, it helps a lot for a defender. The defender-goalkeeper relationship is really important especially when you can't hear each other very well. So it's really good that Hope and I get to train together everyday and we kind of know what each other is thinking without necessarily having to say anything. Definitely, definitely a benefit.
KG : To quote (U.S. WNT Head Coach) Pia (Sundhage), "As a captain, you don’t have to be loud. (U.S. WNT captain) Christie (Rampone) and (U.S. WNT co-captain) Lori are excellent players, but one of their greatest strengths is that they both lead by example.” How exactly do you do that on the field, may it be for the national team or Athletica?
LC : I guess my personality is just not to be real vocal so I don't try to be something I'm not. I guess you just make sure you're taking care of yourself in every aspect whether it's, you know, on the soccer field, working on something before practice and after practice. And also off the field, taking care of your body, just doing everything that you can for the team.
And I think by virtue of doing that, you're leading others. So it's not necessarily something that I really focus on or really think about, but it's just something you do. You just wanna help the team out in every way and make sure you're prepared in any way you can be. And hopefully others are doing that as well.
But what's so incredible about our national team is we have so many leaders on the team. You could name ten or twelve, fifteen, of, you know, people I follow and who leads me by example or vocally. So it's a great honor to be captain but I think there are so many others who have helped lead the team as well.
KG : Let's talk about Athletica now. Your team had a bumpy ride at the first half of the season, but how did you guys surge on to finish second in the standings? Did something change or was it just a slow progress?
LC : I think the struggles we had early in the season, it wasn't because we weren't really playing better or that we were a bad team. A lot of it was just the luck wasn't going our way, the ball wasn't bouncing our way. But I think in the end that helped us a lot, we had to kinda come together as a team and kinda figure out what we're made of, and what our goals were for the season.
I think some of those talks that we had as a team early on, trying to figure those kind of things out, really helped us later on. And the ball finally started going in the net for us. So that definitely helped. But I think we were the same team all along. We were playing well the whole season, it was just finally getting the luck to go on our way.
KG : I got to catch your only game in Maryland (against the Washington Freedom), which had to be one of your most difficult games. You were up two points and winning, then Freedom came back and the game ended in a tie. Plus Daniela, who scored two goals, got injured.
LC : Yeah that was a tough game for those two reasons. We were looking for our first win, and we finally got some goals, and we're up late in the game, and to come out with a tie was hard to take. Plus losing Daniela...it was probably one of the lowest points in the season. And then we just had to battle back.
It was rare back then but we made some trade and we got Christie Welsh and Kendall Fletcher, who both really helped us. Kendall kind of took some of the load that Daniela had in the midfield, and she did a great job for us I think trying to help organize the midfield.
But, yeah, that was tough to take. It was a long ride home the next day.
KG : Although the game that qualified you for the playoffs was at home. So that must have been pretty sweet.
LC : Yeah definitely. It's tough looking at the WPS, the teams are all so close. It's like every week you gain or you drop so much, so it's so nerve wracking! The whole season long you never feel safe or comfortable. Up until that final game when we clinched our playoff spot it was still...you just didn't know.
It definitely took a little load off and we kind of got to take a big breath and re-group and start thinking about the playoffs. So that was a huge victory for us.
KG : Looking forward though, what do you think your team needs to focus on for 2010?
LC : I think we've found some great new players to add to the roster. I think we look better on paper than we did last season with a couple of the players that we've gotten. You never really know though, just wait until that first game and see how the chemistry of the team goes and just make sure that we're all on the same page and that we're working hard. We'll see.
But I think the organization has done really well to keep the team going in the right direction and we're excited about next year.
KG : How much important would the results of the draft be for your team? You guys don't have first round picks but you do have second round picks, right?
LC : Yeah we don't get to pick until late in the second round. But there's still gonna be some good players to be picked up by that point. When you look at the draft last year, there were some great players that were picked up late in the second round, third round, fourth round... so it's just a matter of finding someone who's gonna fit in our system and finding somebody that's gonna help us.
So it'll be interesting. I know the coaches are looking really closely at those college players and I'm sure that they'll have some good ones picked out for us.
The WPS Draft will be on Jan. 15, 2010, 9 AM ET in Philadelphia, PA. To get live updates during the draft itself, follow @wsoccer on Twitter.
Click here for a more candid interview with Chalupny, where she reveals her go-to karaoke song and how she felt hiking up the Great Wall of China.