Five years ago, Lori Chalupny was a name that United States women’s soccer fans knew. Chalupny had started 11 of the national team’s 12 matches at the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Olympics.
She was ruled out of a winter training camp in December 2009 with what appeared to be concussion symptoms. It was the last time Chalupny would have a chance to represent her country after the United States Soccer Federation would not clear her to play.
Chalupny has spent the past five years playing professionally in three different leagues—WPS, WPSL-Elite and the NWSL. Despite being cleared by multiple doctors and neurologists to play professionally, Chalupny was still not cleared by U.S. Soccer.
That is, until this past December.
When head coach Jill Ellis announced the roster that would travel for a four-team tournament in Brazil, Chalupny’s name was on the roster.
Chalupny explained to espnW’s Graham Hayes how she was able to be cleared by U.S. Soccer following the roster selection in December:
'When everything happened a couple of years ago, I understood U.S. Soccer's position and I definitely appreciated that they were looking out for my best interests,' Chalupny said of the original refusal to clear her. 'Hearing the news was not easy to take, but I definitely understand U.S. Soccer's position. That being said, I feel great. I've been playing five years now in the pro leagues and I've had no symptoms and [am] just feeling good, so I thought it was time to contact U.S. Soccer and just see if I could be in consideration again for selection for the team.'
Since then, Chalupny has made four appearances, including last weekend’s loss to France.
The St. Louis native’s play wasn’t perfect against Les Bleues, but the Chicago Red Stars midfielder played well in the opening half after being tasked with stopping French midfielder Elodie Thomis. Her positioning slowed the French attack in several instances within the first half, but she was caught uncharacteristically out of position on both French goals.
Thomis was able to get around her to play the ball across for Eugenie Le Sommer’s opening goal, and Amandine Henry slipped behind Chalupny to hit a half-cross, half-shot that beat Ashlyn Harris to double the French lead.
Chalupny, who plays in the midfield for her club, made the move to outside back for the U.S. in 2008. She was an attacking-minded left back, which is a position the United States has struggled to fill since then.
Relative newcomers Crystal Dunn and Meghan Klingenberg have both auditioned as outside backs. Kelley O’Hara stepped into the role over the last several years, including the 2012 Olympics. Amy LePeilbet and Kristie Mewis have each spent time in the left-back slot.
Right now the biggest issue for Chalupny is time.
The U.S. women begin their quest for the elusive Women’s World Cup on June 8 against Australia. It gives Chalupny little time to make her case for a roster spot. She has not played a match internationally since October 2009. The level of the game has improved in that five-year absence with teams like France, England and Australia catching up to the rest of the world.
But the 31-year-old brings a wealth of experience to Ellis’ side, including a World Cup and an Olympic Games. She has played at the youth national team level, most noticeably for the United States' Under-19 team at the 2002 U-19 World Championship. She was one of the team’s most consistent players at that time.
She also brings depth.
A midfielder in both college and professionally as well as during her early days with the senior team, Chalupny has played centrally or on the wing. During her time away from the national team, she has spent all of her time in the midfield professionally.
The midfield configuration for Team USA right now could allow for Chalupny to slide up to left wing or even to the middle of the park. The U.S. women lack a defensive midfielder, and while Chalupny stands at just 5'4", she spent time there during her career at the University of North Carolina.
Past performances don’t always deserve a starting spot—something that fans and critics of this team can attest to following the Hope Solo-Greg Ryan feud in 2007. In this case, however, Chalupny fills a spot on the roster that the U.S. women have desperately been trying to fill as a left back.
Whereas Klingenberg, O’Hara and Dunn all have experience in those outside-back slots in the last year (or several years, in O’Hara’s case), Chalupny has the big tournament experience, which can only help the Americans in their quest to the title this summer.
Chicago head coach Rory Dames spoke about Chalupny’s play during the summer of 2013, per SoccerWire.com's Charles Boehm:
Lori’s different. ... Lori’s a top-five player in this league, without question – allocated, not allocated, internationals, not internationals – and probably would get more stuff done if she was on some of the other teams that had some more [top players] around her.