For the first time in five years and after a long battle with concussions, Lori Chalupny will again play for the U.S. women's national team. She hasn’t played for the U.S. since exactly five years ago, in a December 2009 training camp, when she suffered another concussion.
After that, U.S. doctors decided Chalupny needed to be completely asymptomatic before playing for the national team again. Although she was cleared by several doctors and played in Women’s Professional Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League, she was not in consideration for the U.S.
“I understood U.S. Soccer’s position, and I appreciated that they were looking out for my best interest,” Chalupny said on a media conference call. “That being said, I feel great. I’ve been playing for five years now in the pro leagues, and I’ve had no symptoms. … I definitely would not be playing, and I wouldn’t have been playing these last five years, if I felt that I was at potential risk.”
Chalupny, who is a standout, versatile midfielder/defender for the NWSL's Chicago Red Stars, was outspoken about her absence, insisting in several interviews in the past five years that she was healthy enough to play. The federation and expert head-injury consultant Dr. Ruben Echemendia remained quiet on the matter, citing issues of medical privacy.
One of the few statements the USSF did make, through a spokesman to SoccerWire.com in September 2013, said Chalupny had not reached out for a follow-up evaluation with the federation’s medical team.
“Lori has not reached out to U.S. Soccer at any time to request a re-evaluation,” the USSF said. “If she did, we would consider her request.”
In August, she finally did, having not suffered another concussion since the last time she was with the national team.
“I didn’t pursue this until just now,” Chalupny said. “With the World Cup coming up, that was definitely a motivation of mine, but it’s something that I’ve been kind of thinking about and trying to figure out the best way to go about it for years.”
After connecting with officials to explain that she was free of all symptoms and wanted to be considered for the U.S. player pool again, the USSF agreed, as long as she could pass two independent evaluations from concussion experts.
“We obviously sat down with Lori and looked at her history previous to 2010 and since 2010 and obviously reached out to some of the experts,” U.S. Soccer chief medical officer George Chiampas said. “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 assure that at this point, at this stage in her life, that neurocognitively, she’s at baseline and she’s been asymptomatic. Obviously, all of those factors came into play with regard to this decision.”
She cleared both evaluations, making her available to head coach Jill Ellis. Ellis selected Chalupny as part of the U.S. roster for the International Tournament of Brasilia on Dec. 10-21 that also includes host nation Brazil, China and Argentina.
However, Ellis made a point to say that Chalupny’s on-field performance dictated the call-up, not her newly cleared medical status.
“This is an invite based on performance,” Ellis said. “This is not just an invite to invite Lori back in. I think she’s been one of the best players in the league.”
Ellis said that as a left-footed player, Chalupny would probably fit into the U.S. team at left wing or left back, although central midfield would also be an option. At the same time, she can’t be sure that Chalupny is still playing at the requisite level without seeing her in training with the team.
“Lori’s so versatile, but I really do kind of need to see her in at this level,” Ellis said. “Can she play at the speed of play and the level? I really think she can.”
Chalupny made similar comments, admitting that it would be tough to break straight back into the starting 11. For now, simply having the opportunity to do so is a step in the right direction.
She said: “I’m just excited to play again.”
Here is the full roster for the competition:
GOALKEEPERS: Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS: 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: 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: Sydney Leroux (Seattle Reign FC), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Abby Wambach (WNY Flash)