By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Mar 19, 2014) US Soccer Players – Steve Cherundolo is the best technical player I've ever seen wear the USMNT shirt. Of course, that requires some explanation. 'Best technical player' carries with it the idea that I'm hedging on simply calling him the best player. Since this is subjective, why not go all in? Here's why. It was never Cherundolo's game to be the best player on the field. He was a defensive specialist who understood his role and how it related to the rest of the players on the field with him that made him the best technical player in a USA shirt.
Cherundolo got it. From the very beginning at full international level, he understood what he needed to do to make his team better. As that team changed, so did he. No US National Team player augmented his game better than Cherundolo. There was no hesitation. He turned what he thought the team needed into action on the field.
If he can translate that to other players as a coach, Cherundolo might only be ending stage one of a lengthy career. He has the vision to see what a team needs and the proof through his own play that it works. More than once, Cherundolo controlled the right flank by forcing his own right midfielder and center back to make moves they weren't seeing. Cherundolo would let up on a run, moving central while his midfielder gave chase. When the player on the ball tried to cut toward goal, Cherundolo was there.
He turned the US defense from a yeoman's effort in pushing the ball out of play into a tactical response that stood up against better offenses. As the US defense got better, he could push the run of play around the field, challenging the opposition to try to find the weak spot. When a team is capable of doing that, their game changes for the better. There's no point in parking the bus when the defense can flow as part of a bigger plan.
At his best, Cherundolo pushed the USMNT forward in a way only a very few players can manage. He was more than an asset in a US shirt, he was proof that this team could do more, could be more in the way the fans could only hope. Cherundolo saw a better version of the USMNT, one that was more than simply athletic. He pushed a way to think about playing an American version of the game that goes back to Nomads in San Diego, Clive Charles at the University of Portland, and his experience at Hannover 96. At all of those stops, it was Cherundolo breaking down his game, figuring out where he fit, and making his teams better.
If you need an example of what happens without Cherundolo, look at the last transitional moment for the USMNT. The 2011 Gold Cup final that turned into a dark day for the USMNT. A 4-2 loss to Mexico that didn't end until several weeks later with a coaching change for the USA. What was the key moment in that game? Cherundolo exiting with an injury in the 11th minute.
Cherundolo calls it a playing career with 87 appearances for the USMNT. What he did over those games was set a standard for consistency and then push himself and his team to do a little more. He is the architect of a style of play with the US back line that turned a liability into a strength. Game after game, he pushed himself and with it the squad. Try things. See if this works. Complicate what the opponent might take for granted and see how they respond. No team is good enough to do the same things over and over and expect results. Not us, not them, so let's do something about that.
A highlight clip of Cherundolo's best moments won't show some of the world's best players underestimating his game. They knew what to expect from an established Bundesliga and international defender. What it would show is Cherundolo doing just enough to throw them off. With one option down, what does the opponent do? That's what Cherundolo did for the USMNT for over a decade. He made them a problem for other teams. What more can you ask from a right back?
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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