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Chalupny returns to USWNT after five years away due to concussion concerns

Lori Chalupny is back with the USWNT. (Photo courtesy Chicago Red Stars/Smith)

Lori Chalupny is back with the USWNT. (Photo courtesy Chicago Red Stars/Smith)

For the first time in five years, Lori Chalupny will re-join the United States women’s national team in training camp, boarding a plane for Brazil on Friday to join the players she can once again call teammates.

Chalupny hasn’t played a match for the United States since 2009. In early 2010 she suffered one too many concussions in a successive amount of time for U.S. Soccer and its medical staff to feel comfortable allowing her to keep playing on the national team. But all the while, the versatile Chalupny, who can play anywhere on the field, continued playing professionally, now with the Chicago Red Stars in her third league.

The inconsistency in being cleared to play by club doctors but not by U.S. Soccer came under scrutiny over the past year, with the U.S. Soccer federation being the front office and operational arm of the National Women’s Soccer League, in which the Red Stars – and Chalupny – play.

[ROSTER: Alex Morgan returns from left ankle sprain, joins USWNT in Brazil]

U.S. Soccer said in September 2013 that Chalupny had not reached out to the federation about re-entering the national team pool, and that it is not the federation’s role to proactively reach out to her.

So this past August, with the World Cup less than a year away, the 30-year-old Chalupny took the initiative and contacted U.S. Soccer to figure out a way to get back into the national team mix. After a series of tests by independent doctors and U.S. Soccer chief medical officer George Chiampas, Chalupny was cleared to be re-admitted to the U.S. player pool.

“I’m beyond excited for this opportunity,” Chalupny said Thursday. “When everything happened a couple years ago I understood U.S. Soccer’s position and I definitely appreciated that they were looking out for my best interest. 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. I’ve been through the pro leagues and I have no symptoms. I’m feeling good, so I just thought it was a good time to contact US Soccer and see if I could be in consideration again for selection to the team.”

Chalupny’s reinstatement comes at a time when concussions are more than ever under the microscope. The NFL has come under scrutiny as former players sue for long-lasting issues regarding treatment of head injuries, and the issue is becoming increasingly problematic in soccer – especially women’s soccer.

U.S. striker Abby Wambach is best known for her ability in the air, heading the ball in her career perhaps – something unquantifiable – more than anyone in the world. She and her team, league and federation came under scrutiny in early 2013 when she was allowed to continue playing in a match following a clear concussion. Now Wambach is tracking her heading of the ball to better understand the ramifications.

Chalupny is considered one of the best and most versatile players in the NWSL, which is entering its third year. In 2008 she was part of the United States’ second of three straight Olympic gold-medal winning teams and she was widely heralded by teammates and outsiders as the best left back in the world.

“Lori is a Top 5 player in the league regardless of her national team status,” Chicago coach Rory Dames said in July 2013. “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.

While several U.S. players have behind the scenes hoped Chalupny would one day be back in the mix, the news comes as a surprise even to most of them. U.S. coach Jill Ellis said she sent the team an email on Thursday night to inform the team ahead of departing for Brazil, and Chalupny says her first time talking to her again-teammates will be at the airport en route to Brazil.

“What’s been one of the hardest things is I haven’t reached out to them,” Chalupny said. “I didn’t want to be a distraction to them in what they are doing, so I kind of just wanted to pursue this and see what happened. So I haven’t talked to them about it. It will be fun to get reunited with all of them in the airport and see what they are up to.”

Chalupny twice declined to specify or estimate how many concussions she has suffered over the years, but she said she has not had a concussion or symptoms of a concussion since 2009. In 2011 Chalupny told The Equalizer that she had spoken with then U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage about re-joining the team, but the decision was out of Sundhage’s hands.

Dr. Chiampas was part of a team of several other independent doctors who collectively cleared Chalupny.

“We look at every player as an individual,” Dr. Chiampas said. “We have to provide that to each one of our players in the national team, is to give them that opportunity. I think that’s what we did. We obviously sat down with Lori and looked at her history pre-2010 and since 2010. [We] reached out to some experts in the United States who deal with these types of injuries, both externally and internally within U.S. Soccer and we made a collective decision with the information that we have, with Lori’s best interest in mind. One of the biggest things is to ensure that at this point, at this stage in her life, that neurocognitively that she is at baseline and she asymptomatic. Obviously all those factors came into play with regards to this decision.”

Versatility is a key word in Ellis’ vocabulary, and that is exactly what Chalupny brings. She plays central midfielder for Chicago, but is also a dangerous striker and a very strong defender. It’s rare to find a player – especially American – with a capable left-footed, and for a U.S. team that has had a revolving door of left backs over the last five years – since Chalupny’s exclusion – the timing to fill a need could be perfect just six months from the World Cup.

Once cleared, Ellis called in Chalupny upon first opportunity – this International Tournament of Brasilia, featuring games against Brazil, China and Argentina from Dec. 10-21. Still, Ellis says that Chalupny needs to re-prove herself. And if Chalupny is to play at left back, she’ll be up against Meghan Klingenberg — who had a standout World Cup qualifying tournament there — and Kelli O’Hara and Crystal Dunn, if healthy.

“This is an invite-based on performance,” Ellis said. “This is not an invite just to bring Lori back in. She’s been one of the best players in the league. Bringing her down to Brazil gives me a chance to see her in training. She’s got a sweet left foot, she’s a tremendous competitor, positionally she’s very versatile and she’s a technical player. I think she’s a good fit for what we are looking for as far as players who will come in and be impactful.”

USWNT roster for International Tournament of Brasilia

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)

DEFENDERS (9): Lori Chalupny (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Whitney Engen (WNY Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Houston Dash), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Morgan Brian (Virginia), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (UCLA), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)

FORWARDS (5): Sydney Leroux (Seattle Reign FC), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Abby Wambach (WNY Flash)

 

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