BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Over the past 12 months, right back Steve Cherundolo has been playing the best soccer of his career at both the international and club levels but now he will be looking to continue it into this summer's Gold Cup.
Cherundolo, 32, began his stellar year last summer at the World Cup in South Africa where he was one of the top American players and helped guided the team to their first ever group win.
Following that tournament, Cherundolo was named the captain of his club, Hannover 96, where he has played since he left University of Portland to turn professional in 1999. Under his captaincy last season, Hannover finished to a fourth place finish in the Bundesliga which marked the club's greatest accomplishment since winning the German Cup in 1992.
"It was one of those seasons where everything fell into place," Cherundolo told YA. "Certainly on paper it was the best season my club has ever had as far as statistics and points and all of that. The group of guys we had was near perfect. Everybody understood each other very, very well. We respected each other and that's the most important component. For me personally, it was a very good year for me as well."year
Now Cherundolo will be bringing his experience back to the US national team which is now assembled in Cary, North Carolina in preparation for a friendly against the current World Cup champions in Spain followed by the 2011 Gold Cup.
"It's always nice to be back," Cherundolo said with a smile. "I haven't been in for awhile so coming into these camps is always a lot of fun. We all get along so we're all a little family here. We still have one game before the Gold Cup in Spain so I think the efforts are getting the group together first and foremost and making sure we're a tight unit again."
"We'll see what we can do against Spain and I think a good result against Spain is the best preparation you can have for the Gold Cup."
Cherundolo has played just one game for the US team since the World Cup and that was back in October when he played in a 2-2 friendly draw against Poland in Chicago. It also marked the beginning of his fourth World Cup cycle for the US,
During his career, Cherundolo has seen a lot of players move through the US system and this past week has been the first time he has played with many of the team's top newcomers like Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo.
So far, Cherundolo is very pleased by the team's new additions and feels as if it is a testament to the growth of the sport in the United States.
"Seeing the younger generation now, they're further along than I was and my group of guys were when we were that age," Cherundolo discussed. "So that's the process that needs to continue for US Soccer. I think we're going in the right direction and at a healthy pace."
While Cherundolo was confident in the growth of the game in the United States and the improved talent on the field, he offered a bit a caution in that there still remains a long way to go to catch up to many of the world's traditional powers.
"I don't think it's healthy to get too much success too soon for a soccer nation," he added. "For some it maybe too slow but realistically the United States is 70 years behind the rest of the world in soccer. We have a lot of work to do but we're definitely on the right track."
Cherundolo is one of the most experienced players on the US Gold Cup team. His 65 caps are the fourth most on the squad behind only Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Carlos Bocanegra. Along with Donovan, he is one of only two players on team who was represented the US at the 2002 World Cup.
Cherundolo will be 35 in 2014 and some have questioned how much longer he wants to continue to represent the US team internationally.
He insists that he is still very happy to wear the American jersey and his discussions with head coach Bob Bradley suggest that he will continue to play a role as the team builds towards Brazil 2014. The Illinois native remains confident his body will be able to continue with withstand the toll of near year-round soccer.
"Thankfully I've been involved with the national team for my whole career," Cherundolo pointed out. "I've been used to having short breaks. I never really got used to an off season. As far as motivation goes, I've had this discussion with Bob [Bradley] and as long as I can contribute to the group and Bob feels I can still contribute, I'm happy to be here. When my time is up, whether it is tomorrow or after the World Cup in 2014, so be it. I'm happy to be here and help when I can. When it's over it's over."
In addition to long-term ambitions to remain with the US team for a fourth World Cup, Cherundolo also has a goal to eventually leave Hannover and return home to conclude his career in MLS.
"Absolutely, I plan on coming home and playing in MLS if the MLS still needs somebody of my stature," Cherundolo concluded. "If I can help an MLS team later in my career, I would love to come home. But if there is no room for me, then I'll end my career at Hannover."
Cherundolo and the US national team will host Spain on June 4th at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough and will then travel to Detroit for their opening game of the 2011 Gold Cup where they will host Canada at Ford Field on June 7th.