ST. LOUIS — The U.S. Women’s national soccer team has become the most dominant international women’s team in the world with its four World Cup titles, four Olympic gold medals and eight gold cups.
On Thursday, Team USA defeated Australia to win bronze in the Tokyo Olympic Games, but the team’s impact goes far beyond the field.
Two of the team’s stars from the past and present are key components to that effect in St. Louis.
St. Louis native Lori Chalupny was part of the national team at the start of its dominance. She said the country’s success hasn’t happened by chance.
“I think it’s just built into the culture of the program,” Chalupny said. “They know the expectation is to win. You know that growing up through the system the expectation is to win. And they just have that hunger and the desire to stay on top.”
Chalupny is a 2008 Olympic gold medalist, and a 2015 World Cup champion, who now serves as the women’s soccer coach at Maryville University.
“I had the benefit of living in a city like St. Louis where soccer is the premier sport,” Chalupny said. “I think club coaches have such an impact on not only teaching the skills, but also teaching a passion for the game. And I think that played a huge role in my success.”
Chalupny’s gold medal with the national team in the Beijing games is where most of the dominance started. The continued success would inspire girls and fans across the country.
“We won the Olympics in 2008, and then came home and there wasn’t anybody greeting us at the airport,” Chalupny said. “Which I’m not asking for that, but that was the level of interest in the sport at that time. And then you look 10 years later, and these girls on the U.S. team can hardly walk down the street.”
Chalupny’s journey on the field began with J.B. Marine select soccer club when she was eight years old. The same soccer club as her former teammate, and current U.S. soccer star captain Becky Sauerbrunn.
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“Soccer has just exploded in this city, but also across the country as well,” Chalupny said. “When I was growing up there were three or four teams. It was J.B. Marine, and we used to compete against Busch. And you’d circle that game on your calendar, and that was the big game. We would travel a little bit. We’d travel to Chicago, and small tournaments. But now you’ve got 20 and 30 teams in every age group.”
J.B. Marine now houses two to three girls teams at every age level.
Current J.B. Marine midfielder Ella Rogan said Chalupny and Sauerbrunn’s success in the club motivates her to follow in their footsteps.
“It inspires me because people are looking at this club,” Rogan said. “Like I can have the chance to make it big.”
Rogan said she’s not only motivated by what the professional athletes do on the field, but off the field as well.
“A lot of players use their platform and their voices to create change,” Rogan said. “Recently they released a documentary about equal pay, and they all use their voices for equality and fight for that. Which I think is very important.”
Chalupny achieved her goals on the field before retiring in 2015, but said her new mission to further grow the sport of soccer in hometown is far from over.
“I want to win a national championship,” Chalupny said. “I want to put this program here at Maryville on the national map. And so I think there’s a lot of growth that I have to do, but there’s still a lot left that I want to accomplish as a coach.”