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Cherundolo’s veteran leadership a key for the USMNT

SteveCherundolo (HowardCSmithISI)

Photo by Howard C. Smith/



Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra are all expected to provide veteran leadership at the World Cup, but one player whose leadership qualities will also be counted upon is Steve Cherundolo.

Cherundolo is heading towards the third World Cup of his career, and the experience gained from playing in the last two editions, as well as playing in Europe for 11 seasons, are reasons he is being counted on as an integral part of the U.S. national team.

"He is a true professional," said head coach Bob Bradley. "He brings experience. He brings a balanced good sense of the game and the team at all times. He's an essential part of that core of leaders in our team because he may not always be the one that's up in the front, but he's the one that always sees little details, always at the right time interjects things that need to be considered.

"It's a product of somebody who has done it right. He went away, he's been in a professional enviroment, he's understood what it means to be consistent to stay on the field, to play week in and week out, to be with a club where people expect a lot of you. In that regard, he doesn't get the recognition on the outside, but he's a true professional and an important part of everything we do."

Despite missing several qualifiers, the 2007 Gold Cup and last year's Confederations Cup due to injury, Cherundolo has been the first-choice starter at right back for much of this cycle. When healthy, the 31-year-old has typically provided sturdy defending and veteran leadership, with the latter being a facet of Cherundolo's game that he understands will be relied heavily upon this summer.

"I need to help paint a picture (for the younger guys), 'look guys, this is what it is going to be like. Don't be surprised. Don't be in awe. Go out there and do your thing and we'll try to win every game,'" said Cherundolo.

One of the players that Cherundolo will be mentoring is Jonathan Spector, who has been and will be competing with him for the starting right back position this summer. With Cherundolo sidelined, Spector took advantage of the opportunity handed to him in last summer's Confederations Cup, providing solid defense and pinpoint crossing.

Since that tournament, Cherundolo and Spector have split starts at right back. With the World Cup looming, and with cohesiveness being a trait Bradley offen talks about, a decision on who to start on the right side of defense will soon be made.

Regardless of who is higher on the depth chart, both players have shown a mutual respect for one another. Spector has labeled the competition a healthy one, while Cherundolo has had nothing but positives to say about his teammate and competitor.

"Jonathan is a great player. Last summer at the Confederations Cup (with him) the back line did excellent," said Cherundolo. "It is just one of those decisions the coach is going to have to make. We're both capable of playing. I think it's the coach's time to figure out which group functions the best together. Whether I play or he plays, we both support each other."

The World Cup isn't the only thing Cherundolo is looking forward to. After spending all of his 11 professional seasons with Hannover 96, Cherundolo will become a free agent this summer, and he has not ruled out the possibility of finding a new club.

"My contract is up this summer so they'll make me an offer I assume in the next week or so," said Cherundolo. "But I don't have to stay. It would also be nice towards the end of my career to maybe see something new. On the other hand, I've been through so much with one club, it would be amazing to retire there too."

Perhaps the most difficult season Cherundolo endured with the club was the last one. Cherundolo not only had to deal with the death of long time teammate and starting goalkeeper Robert Enke since November, but he took part in the club's fight against relegation for much of the season.

It wasn't until the final weekend of the season that Hannover secured its status as a club in Germany's top flight, posting a 3-0 road victory against VfL Bochum. For Cherundolo, the feeling of avoiding the drop was a huge accomplishment for he and the club.

"It was like winning the championship for us," said Cherundolo. "Considering all the ups and downs we had for the last season, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, and we got through it. I was really proud of the fans, the city, just everybody in Hannover the way they presented themselves towards the end of the season. Everybody came together, which needs to happen in a situation like that, and it worked out so we were ecstatic."

As big as avoiding relegation was, enjoying a good World Cup run would likely feel just as sweet for Cherundolo, especially after the three-and-out showing in 2006.

Whether Cherundolo claims the starting right back spot or not remains to be seen, but even if he doesn't, the veteran savvy and leadership he will provide will likely see him gain more recognition and admiration. Even if it doesn't come from the outside.


  1. i always thought that he would make a great corner stone to build an MLS club around.. my picks Portland next year or maybe Seattle this year.

  2. “Good point. I think the fact he plays in the prem has to be the deciding factor, as he’ll know all of these players tendencies. He needs to line up against England. Personally I would prefer both of them out there over Boca.”

    It also means the English players know how to beat Spector, which they have done quite handily all season long. They will feel quite confident aginst him.

    Familarity with success is good. Familiarity with failure is not so good.

  3. Yes, Bradley often has a blinding loyalty to certain players.

    However, of the list you cited, I think the only legitimate players who are at risk of being cut are: Bedoya, Gomez and Kljestan.

    The rest of your list I think are all but locks to remain, heading to SA.

  4. Will Bradley go for a 4 bagger (friends) and bring Beasley, Ching, Feilhaber, and Kljestan? If so Gomez, Bedoya, Torres, and posibbly Holden will all be out.

  5. I’d lean to having Spector on the bench. Why? He can cover all four positions on the back-line, allowing more attacking options on the bench.

  6. Good point. I think the fact he plays in the prem has to be the deciding factor, as he’ll know all of these players tendencies. He needs to line up against England. Personally I would prefer both of them out there over Boca.

  7. Being so experienced i’m surprised Dolo hasn’t volunteered for left back, especially if Spector beats him out at starting right back.

  8. Spector should get the start against England. Three reasons, 1) He plays against these players for a living, 2) the Confed Cup, got to hope that on his natural side he can get back to form 3) Let’s face it, if we’re depending on a result against England, we’re not getting out of this group. Let him battle against the players he knows, and if he doesn’t play well, give Dolo a shot a Algeria and Slovenia.

    Plus, I haven’t been entirely impressed with Dolo, especially against Mexico in Azteca. He’s not as well designed for our brand of stay at home defense. I’d love it if we played with true overlapping fullbacks, but with our formation it’s a liability. Overall, I just think Spector is a better player in a funk.

  9. the only thing we lose with spector over dolo is height, and on the outside that’s not a big issue. Spector’s crossing might be marginally better but dolo can whip it in quite nicely and to me, his defensive positioning is better. Add to that the fact that he’s a veteran of the 06 (and kind of the 02) world cup and in my book he gets the nod. Experience is going to be big for us, particularly against england and dolo brings that to the table

  10. Ummm – are we in an alternate reality where Steve Cherundolo didn’t get injured in training and actually played in the 2002 World Cup?

  11. Even with his late seasons struggles, Spector still might be the best option at left back….

    Nice article on Cherundolo. He is all class.

  12. It’s a tough choice. Spector didn’t look all that great towards the end of the season for West Ham, but that could very well be because he was deployed on the left as opposed to the right. Positioning is different, setting up to deliver and receive passes is something you have to get used to, and with the pace at which the English Premier League moves and the quality of the players he plays against, it’s a lot to deal with. When he was deployed on the right for West Ham, he seemed to actually excel, getting forward pretty well, delivering some good crosses, and even making the occasional run into the box. He even drew a penalty for West Ham at one point, and had a pretty good game against Arsenal at the right back, dealing pretty well with Andrei Arshavin.

    Then there is Cherundolo, who has simply been doing all of those things longer. Spector has incredible potential that could, and probably will, put him past Cherundolo in terms of ability overall. The main question is whether or not he is, at the moment, in good enough form to stand up against the best teams in the world like he did last summer. Recent form says, no, but this is partly what friendlies are for. Figuring out who is in form and who is not.


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