American soccer defender Lori Chalupny is a 2015 World Cup champion and 2008 Olympic gold medalist who also got her start right here in St. Louis. A few months ago, Chalupny announced her official retirement from the sport…but not completely.
Chalupny currently serves as the assistant coach at Maryville University and was recently announced to be the officially-designated head coach there in 2018. She’s also bullish about the future of MLS soccer in St. Louis, where she first started playing in Catholic Youth Council soccer leagues and, later, for Nerinx High School.
“I think St. Louis would be a fantastic market,” Chalupny told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh. “We talk about St. Louis being the birthplace of soccer in the United States, that’s what I grew up with, fortunately. This is a soccer town. There are so many young players out there and the only thing we’re missing is a team. Without any doubt, the fans would support a team here. I think it would be a good thing for the city.”
Chalupny’s comments came just prior to news, reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that a group of local business and sports leaders in St. Louis is working together to get a Major League Soccer franchise.
Chalupny was joined on the show by Bill McDermott, announcer, broadcaster and former NCAA champion known as “Mr. Soccer,” to discuss the history and future of soccer in St. Louis, their careers, and current issues facing the sport.
Both will be participating in a TEDxGatewayArch event on Thursday, February 18. It’s one of several panels discussing soccer that will be held at Washington University. You can find out more here.
“Everybody is tired of me talking about it, me in particular, because I’ve been talking about it since 1970 when I first came back from the World Cup in Mexico, ‘We gotta have this in St. Louis, we’ve got to have this,’ and we did have that in NASL,” McDermott said. “Fast forward to 1996, NASL is long gone and MLS starts and it has really, more so than ever in the past, captured the imagination of the sporting American public. It is a sport for a new America because of the digital era, youth watching it. It is driven by television that televises games all over the world and now it has come home to St. Louis. We are only missing one thing: that is, an owner/investor/operator to put up a huge sum of money to get into MLS.”
McDermott recognized there is some fatigue in St. Louis regarding high-level wheeling-and-dealing over sports and stadiums and the like, and said that the investor/owner/operator would have to be comfortable with accommodating the huge financial outtake at the outset. The excitement is there, however, said McDermott, visible in the fact the MLS has approached St. Louis.
Women’s soccer has ‘ignited the national imagination’
Part of the reason that soccer is once again at the forefront of Americans’ minds has to do with big wins on the part of the U.S. Women’s National Team—which has seen far more success on an international stage in past years than the men’s team.
“They are so good at what they do and they win on a regular basis,” McDermott said of the women’s team. “Americans want winners, especially from national teams.”
Chalupny said support has increased vastly for the team during the time she played for it, a span from 2001-2015.
“This past summer was unbelievable, the amount of support we got back here in the United States and especially in the Midwest markets of St. Louis and Kansas City, the top two television markets for this past year’s World Cup,” said Chalupny. “St. Louis is right up there with these crazy soccer fans.”
Disparities in the treatment of women’s and men’s soccer
There are still disparities, however, in how men’s and women’s sports are treated. For example, the women’s World Cup was played on turf rather than grass.
“It is not ideal, Chalupny said. “Any soccer player wants to play on grass, but we have to deal with what we get. Putting out good grass fields is costly and, sometimes, turf is a simple solution.”
Chalupny spoke of the extra pressure on joints, knees and ankles from playing on turf as well as “turf burns,” that come from sliding on the hard surface instead of softer grass.
“Soccer is made to be played on grass fields,” McDermott added. “In essence, the U.S. did adapt to it and adapted to it well. But that’s a huge grind on your body. The players from St. Louis FC, in its second year and beginning training today for its second season, will tell you that to train and then play on artificial turf takes a toll on your body.”
McDermott also mentioned that St. Louis FC’s well-attended matches lend credence to the idea that the community would support MLS.
Listen to the rest of the broad-ranging discussion, including Chalupny’s thoughts on life-after-retirement, McDermott’s thoughts on Catholicism and soccer, and what the two will talk about at TEDxGatewayArch:
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.