The Legacy Series spotlights individuals who have had a hand (and foot) in shaping St. Louis into America’s first soccer capital.
Lori Chalupny: Never Cutting Corners
Written by Michael Haffner
Our mentors and coaches never stop teaching us. In fact, some might argue that their voices get louder over time. Maybe, they are even more profound. Or perhaps the words just affect you differently.
We’re a product of our past.
Lori Chalupny is keenly aware of this. “I see a little from all my past coaches in me.”
Likewise, she is someone who has left her mark on millions of soccer fans and players all over the world. Her impact is evident in U.S. Women’s Soccer history as well as her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, where she still resides and serves as a mentor and coach for future generations of soccer stars. Chalupny is a former defender for the U.S. Women's National Team (USWNT). She won a Gold Medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and hoisted the World Cup in 2015. Now, she serves as the head coach for the women’s soccer team at Maryville University along with being a director for the St. Louis club team, Fire & Ice.
It was soccer that helped her develop a belief that she still applies to all aspects of her life: “You can’t cut corners.” Chalupny is a player and coach who has faced hardships and battles, but she is also aware of the people who have helped her better understand her role on and off the field.
A Quiet Force to be Reckoned With
Lori Chalupny’s demeanor when speaking about the past could be construed as reserved to some people. Her stories are short and succinct. But each story is accompanied by an easy smile. You hear her love of the sport in these stories, even though it was often “tough love” that had a hand in shaping her today. It’s not just a throwaway phrase to her, but an approach she encountered in training, during matches, and off the field. Lori Chalupny represents an era in soccer defined by discipline.
“Tracey believed in not cutting corners.”
Tracey Leone was one of the “tough love” mentors in her life. She was the head coach for the U-16 U.S. Women’s Youth National Team. Leone is a 1991 World Cup champion and became the first American to win a world championship as both a player and head coach when she won with the U-19 team in 2002 – a team which Chalupny was on. But what Leone instilled in her players was a set of standards that went beyond footwork. “She expected you to show up on time. You tucked in your shirt. She provided lessons for life that were so important to me at that time. From that day forward, it was never a question. I was always on time. It became a part of who I was.”
She was a perfect match for a young Chalupny who had already demonstrated a similar disciplined frame of mind in her training, which included being efficient with both feet and not favoring one over the other. At the time, Leone’s U-16 team needed a left-footed winger. “When I was a youngster, what set me apart was my ability to use my left foot. That’s what got my foot in the door for the youth national teams.” Chalupny was so skilled with that foot that they actually thought she was a lefty. It was through her coaches on St. Louis club teams like J.B. Marine and at Nerinx Hall High School where she was pushed to use both feet equally.
This led her to earn a spot in 2001 as a left-back for the U.S. Women’s National Team at the age of 17. Though some young players might find this accomplishment intimidating, Chalupny talks about being unphased stepping into the role. “When I started, I was surrounded by veteran players who were carrying the team forward. It’s a sink or swim moment. You either get on board with how things are done, or you’re gone.” She talks about the hard work and expectations put on her as if it was just a normal part of the job – her love of the sport outweighed the tougher aspects of her role on the team.
It didn’t take long for her to adapt to the winning “mentality” that was at the center of the organization. She explains, “You step into an environment where winning is the expectation all the time. It’s deeply engrained in U.S. soccer.” Coaches, players, and pundits alike often described her as versatile and one of the most complete players on the team. This reliability to get the job done made her a player that could rotate from playing center midfield to outside back. Chalupny started 11 of the team’s 12 matches at the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Olympics, where she helped lead the team to a Gold Medal.
Unfortunately, after the 2008 Olympics, Chalupny’s career was slowed by concussions. While the U.S. Soccer Federation told her she had to step down from the USWNT, she was allowed to play for professional teams including St. Louis Athletica, the Atlanta Beat, and the Chicago Red Stars in the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL). But it was in 2014 where Lori Chalupny got a second chance at playing on the world’s biggest stage. After determining she was safe to return to play, Chalupny was asked to join the USWNT yet again for another World Cup trophy-run. Despite the concussion issues that almost sidelined her, she fought back and was able to lift the World Cup trophy in Canada in 2015. She proved to herself, her teammates, and coaches, and the world that if you put in the work, you can mentally and physically overcome the obstacles in your path.
She’ll Never Forget St. Louis
Lori Chalupy is a World Cup Champion, an Olympic Gold Medalist, a St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame member, and now a U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame nominee… and yet, the one moment that stands out in her celebrated international career is one that took her back to St. Louis.
The 2015 international friendly against New Zealand in St. Louis will be a match she will always remember. The first half showed how solid the U.S. team’s back four were, including another local star, Becky Sauerbrunn. Going into the second half, the USWNT held onto a 1-0 lead. It was at the 57th minute where Lori Chalupny was able to take the field in front of an electric crowd, anxious for another goal.
Big thrill for the #USWNT's two St. Louis natives to be on the field at Busch Stadium today. #Becky&Lori pic.twitter.com/ExREaKz47t
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) April 3, 2015
There were many close attempts in the second half, but it was a quick short-corner by Megan Rapinoe at the end of the 74th minute that set up the play that would be the breakthrough that the team and crowd pined for. After getting the ball back and driving towards the box, Rapinoe split two defenders with an easy pass to Lori Chalupny who moved right inside the top left corner of the box. Julie Johnston (now, Julie Ertz) effectively screened the goalie who bobbed back and forth like a buoy in the water trying to decide which way to lean. It was a perfect setup for a calm and composed left-footed shot that curved into the near post.
And there it was. The moment that stands out from all the others for the St. Louis star.
“Scoring a goal at Busch Stadium. It’s a highlight moment. I’ll never forget it.”
Her arms immediately went up in celebration as the ball soared into the back of the net. Lori Chalupny had just scored a goal in front of 35,817 of her hometown fans – a record-setting crowd for Busch Stadium. It was her 9th goal and 99th appearance for the team.
She provided the much-needed breakthrough the team needed. It was a 4-0 victory that saw three defenders score in the same match. But that’s the style of play that coach Jill Ellis defined for the team – she encouraged every player to push forward, even the outside backs. It was also Jill Ellis who believed Chalupny could come back from her concussion issues and make a difference for this team.
In the fall of 2015, after making a comeback that didn’t seem possible, the St. Louis girl hung up her cleats. It’s a decision that she knew was the right thing for her health, and one she doesn’t regret today. “I felt good about retiring. I loved playing, but I was ready. I gave everything I could, and the time was right.” Chalupny retired with 106 caps and 10 goals.
Passing on What She Has Learned
Lori Chalupny talks about her career as two phases. Phase 1 was her playing and phase 2 is now coaching. One of the aspects of sports – especially women’s sports – is that you still need to have a job in the off-season. Ten years ago when Chalupny was still playing, she got into coaching for exactly that reason. She coached for St. Louis Scott Gallagher because, as she directly states, “I needed money. But in hindsight, it was the perfect way to jumpstart the next phase of my career.”
Finding a permanent role as a coach after retiring from playing was an easy transition. After a brief stint at Washington University, she moved on to Maryville University as an assistant coach and then became their head coach in 2018.
“Coaching is all about stealing ideas.”
Anson Dorrance is another one of those mentors with ideas and lessons that Chalupny still subscribes to in her daily life today. There’s no question that he has earned his legendary status in American soccer. Dorrance has won 21 titles as a coach at the University of North Carolina. Chalupny was a four-year starter and All-American at North Carolina from 2002-2005 – she won an NCAA Championship with the Tar Heels in 2003. Well, if you are going to steal ideas from anyone, you might as well steal from the best.
“[Dorrance] always wanted to see the competitive spirit in practices. He called it the Competitive Cauldron. That your performance in practice determines whether you play over the weekend.”
The game is ever evolving, even in the six years since Chalupny was out on the pitch as a player. She talks about how when she was growing up, the coaching style was very different. The game is a lot more technical and tactical now. It’s not just about running hard or working hard.
While her playing career might be defined by putting in the hard work, she’s quick to point out how working hard is different for each player – especially for those “youngsters” who are still in the development stage. When asked if she has any advice for the young players currently on St. Louis CITY SC’s U-16 and U-17 teams who are all working towards the same goal to be on the first team in 2023, she had this to say: “Run your own race.” She’s a firm believer that everyone achieves at different levels and at different stages. “Don’t compare yourself to others. At that age, there is still a lot of room for personal growth. Just try to be your best YOU.”
Even though Lori Chalupny and Becky Sauerbrunn might be the most famous players to play in women’s soccer from St. Louis, she envisions more phenomenal players to come from this city. As she states with a sense of pride, “We have the passion and the players.” And maybe St. Louis CITY SC will open new doors for other professional soccer teams in St. Louis. “I hope that we can see a professional women’s team.”
Despite her accomplishments, she believes in taking it step by step and enjoying the process. Earning a spot on the big team or winning a championship… these are byproducts of your love of the game. But passion for soccer needs to come first, and that’s something Chalupny is now focused on as a coach. “I try to inspire that passion in my players.”
It’s clear that she loves her life now and everything that came before. You hear it in her stories recounting her time as a player, and in the new ones now as both a coach and mother. Like when she reveals where her Olympic Gold Medal and World Cup Medal currently are. “They’re sitting on my desk, but more times than not, my 3 yr. old runs around the house and plays dress up with them,” she admits while laughing.
While Chalupny continues to be a knowing mentor for many on the field, she loves her new role off the field at home. Another role she happily accepts that’s defined by hard work and the occasional “tough love.”