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w/ WNT Defender Lori Chalupny

Lori Chalupny has long been a youth National Team standout and a star at the University of North Carolina, but this year she’s made a big step up to the full Women’s National Team.  After training in the USA’s Olympic Residency Camp during 2004 and playing four games during the year, Chalupny started all four games of the 2005 Algarve Cup in Portugal and is just one of a number of exciting young talents starting to make an impact on the big stage.

Perhaps the only U.S. Women’s National Team player from a high school whose mascot is a big green Crayon, the former Nerinx Hall High School Marker has accomplished a lot in a few short years, and with one world title under her belt, wants to be a part of another, as the U.S. team begins its preparations for the next FIFA Women’s World Cup.

She’s quiet, unassuming, pleasant and humble (she’s from Missouri, for gosh sakes) and she’d just as soon go about her business on the field without anyone noticing.

Too late.

Lori Chalupny is not a secret anymore.  The five-foot-four St. Louis product had a breakout tournament at the 2005 Algarve Cup, starting three games at left back, and one game at right midfield (before moving back to left back in the second half), while playing almost every minute of the tournament.

Chalupny (pronounced Kah-lup-nee) was most impressive against Germany in the championship game, going up against behemoth German attackers Birgit Prinz and Kerstin Garefrekes and holding her own.  Some of the Germans towered a full eight inches over Chalupny, who somehow managed to get her mop of strawberry blond hair up amongst the giants on air balls and was gritty in her tackling as well.

The performance was remarkable, not only in the fact that she was part of a U.S. back line that did not allow a goal in the tournament, but in that those were the first games she’s ever played at left back at any level, never mind for the National Team against some of the best teams in the world.

Did we mention that she’s also right-footed?

“The way we play at North Carolina in a 3-4-3, the left midfielder ends up being a left back part of the time, so that helped me be more comfortable in that role,” said Chalupny.  “(Center back) Kate Markgraf also really helped me a lot because she was vocal and her leadership was great in directing me.  I’ve always been comfortable on the left side.  I played left wing from the time I was little so I guess that helped too.”   

Chalupny, who in her soccer life is almost always referred to by her nickname “Chalupa” or “Chalups” after the popular Mexican fast food item, first broke into the international game when she made the Under-21 Nordic Cup team in 2001 the summer before her freshman year at college. She scored twice in the tournament as one of the youngest players on the team. 

She emerged as a starter on the USA’s 2002 FIFA U-19 World Championship Team, patrolling the midfield for one of the most dominating squads in U.S. history.  That team was led by the “new Triple-Edged Sword” of Lindsay Tarpley, Heather O’Reilly and Kelly Wilson, who sliced through the opposition in Canada to score a combined 19 goals on the way to a dramatic overtime win over the hosts in the title game.  Perhaps overshadowed in that competition was Chalupny, who did the dirty work in the midfield to free up the dynamic strikers.

She was called the “unsung hero” of the tournament by former U.S. head coach April Heinrichs and has been a key player on the U.S. U-21s ever since, while also earning valuable experience as a member of the USA’s 2004 Olympic Residency Camp.

“Lori had a tremendous impact on our success at the Algarve Cup,” said U.S. head coach Greg Ryan.  “She defended very well for a player that was learning the position on the fly and she gave the team a much needed attacking presence out of the back. She is exceptionally skillful and creative in her attacking play and I am confident that Lori will contribute significantly to the National Team in the future if she continues to develop at her current pace.”

Currently at 13 caps, she earned four of those in 2004 during the run to the Olympics and scored her first goal at the senior level on May 9 in Albuquerque, New Mexico against Mexico, sticking a laser-beam shot into the upper-corner from just outside the penalty area.

“It was great to play with very experienced players during Residency,” said Chalupny.  “I learned a lot about professionalism, being consistent day-in and day-out and taking care of your body so you can perform at a high level for a long period.  On the field, the speed of play was just so much faster and you can’t not get better from playing at that level every day.”

Fans of college soccer and the University of North Carolina certainly know that Chalupny has been one of the best players on one of the best teams in the country for the last three years.  She rebounded quickly from a foot injury as a freshman, but the setback limited her to just 16 games.  She busted out as a sophomore, earning First-Team All-American honors as she scored 11 goals with 12 assists from the midfield to help lead the Tar Heels to an undefeated season and the NCAA title.

While her scoring went down as a junior (six goals) she was still widely regarded as one of the top players in the nation and heads into her senior year as one of the leading candidates for the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy as college soccer’s top player.

Always one of the shyest and most soft-spoken players on any of her teams, even Chalupny admits her development as an impact player for the USA has corresponded with her personality starting to emerge a bit.

Living during Olympic Residency Camp with fellow young gun Heather O’Reilly (who hails from Central New Jersey and has never been considered shy) probably had something to do with that.

“Chalupa has always been a leader by example, but it’s been awesome to see her come out of her shell at UNC and be more vocal,” said O’Reilly.  “She’s one of the funniest people I know and it’s nice to see her be comfortable enough to speak out.  She’s definitely one of the hardest midfielders I’ve ever played with.  She’s got an unbelievable mentality.  She’s just a blue collar worker.”

As new U.S. head coach Greg Ryan begins his long process of identifying and selecting the players who will attempt to qualify the USA for 2007, Chalupny has to like where she stands.  Whether her contribution comes from the midfield or at the back, she doesn’t care.  She’s just glad to be getting a shot to be on that plane to China in two years.

After a series of matches for the U.S. women this summer, Chalupny turns her focus to her senior season at UNC and erasing the bitterness of failing to make the NCAA Final Four last season.

It goes without saying that she wants to end her collegiate career on a high note, but surprisingly, or maybe not so much anymore, she did have something to say about it.

“It would be great to end my college career with another national championship,” said Chalupny.  “We have a very talented team this year, but you just never know how things are going to turn out, and we saw that last year.  To have both Heather (O’Reilly) and (Lindsay) Tarpley healthy will make a big difference, and Ashlyn Harris will be one of the best goalkeepers in the country even though she’s a freshman.  I can’t wait. It’s going to be fun.”