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USSF-Chalupny saga drags on, but nothing changes

Lori Chalupny finished third in NWSL MVP voting, but still can't get cleared to play for the USWNT. (Photo courtesy Chicago Red Stars/Smith)

Lori Chalupny is the best American player not on the U.S. women’s national team.

I’ve been saying that for over three years — literally — and I’m still yet to hear a full-fledged explanation as to why she isn’t still in red, white and blue. We know the general ‘why’ — that Chalupny has had too many concussions in her career and U.S. Soccer’s chief neurologist, Dr. Ruben Echemendia, won’t clear her to play — but lack the details.

The plot took a new twist this year when Chalupny — who has eight goals in 92 caps for the U.S. but hasn’t played internationally since 2009 — played in the NWSL, which is run is overseen and run by U.S. Soccer. How could she be cleared to play for the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL, but not for the very federation overseeing the league? When I asked that in May, U.S. Soccer passed the buck to it being a team decision:

“The National Women’s Soccer League is a separate entity from U.S. Soccer and the decision on whether a player is medically cleared to participate in the league is made by the individual clubs’ medical staff. In this situation, the Chicago Red Stars’ medical staff has cleared Lori Chalupny to play in the league.”

Chalupny finished third in MVP voting after tallying five goals and four assists in 18 games, furthering her case to be called up again. So did some investigation and spoke with Chalupny, who says Dr. Echemendia hasn’t physically seen her.

“No, he’s never actually seen me,” she said. “I went and saw two of the top neurologists in the country, Dr. [Robert] Cantu and Dr. [Michael] Collins, the guys that Sydney Crosby [the National Hockey League star who has grappled with his own concussion problems] and the top-level athletes see, and they’ve all cleared me.

“It’s just a matter of this one neurologist, and he’s entitled to his opinion. But I guess until that changes, my status won’t change.”

The shouts for Chalupny to be on the national team have been loud both publicly and privately (and to be clear, this fiasco is well out coach Tom Sermanni’s hands — and Pia Sundhage’s, previously).

“Lori is a Top 5 player in the league regardless of her national team status,” Chicago coach Rory Dames said after a 1-0 win over the Western New York Flash on July 4. “She does what she does and we are happy to have her.”

James Galanis, Chalupny’s coach at the Atlanta Beat in 2011, called her “one of the top five players in the world” in 2011.

And U.S. Soccer remains steadfast that nothing has changed.

“She has not been cleared to play for the national team,” one USSF official told SoccerWire. “As for the league [NWSL], it is a separate entity from U.S. Soccer. A few years ago when Chalupny was being considered for the national team she was not medically cleared to play by U.S. Soccer after broad consultation with U.S. Soccer medical consultants.

“Our stance has not changed.”

That’s exactly it: Nothing has changed. Yet the inconsistency of being cleared to play for St. Louis Athletica, the Atlanta Beat and, now, the Chicago Red Stars, but not for the U.S. national team continues. With the Red Stars under NWSL’s and, ultimately, U.S. Soccer’s roof, Chalupny should be cleared for all competition or not cleared for all. It’s clear that Dr. Echemendia has the last say, so if he’s that concerned, why is he letting her play at all?

With the talent Chalupny brings to the field (from forward to attacking midfielder and even outside back), there’s an overwhelming public desire to see her back in the U.S. shirt. Maybe U.S. Soccer is scared that one too many concussions will happen under its watch. That’s fair — and Chalupny’s health should come first — but better explanation is needed than to simply pass off responsibility.

Chalupny’s upbeat attitude hasn’t changed, either. Two years ago she told me she wasn’t angry over the situation.

“I’m not upset by it,” Chalupny said after her last game with the Atlanta Beat in 2011. “I of course want to play there because that is the highest level, but I am proud of what I accomplished at that level and if I never play there again, I’ll be happy with my career. But of course, yeah, I’d love to play there.”

Thursday night she took to Twitter, echoing those sentiments:

And so it continues. Oct. 29 will mark four years since Chalupny last played for the U.S., when she wore the armband in a 1-0 win over Germany in Augsburg.


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