U.S. Men’s National Team defender Steve Cherundolo is finally closing in on a return to the field after a knee injury and a string of successive surgeries that began last December have kept him off the pitch since last May. The veteran right back shares his thoughts on the recovery process, his teammates achievements at the Gold Cup and in World Cup qualifying this past summer and states his aim is to earn a spot on the 23-man roster that will head to Brazil for next summer’s FIFA World Cup.
ussoccer.com: People may not totally understand the injuries you’ve had to deal with over the last few months. Take us through what has happened.
Steve Cherundolo: “In December of last year, I started having some knee problems. My knee was swelling up and then, shortly after, I had surgery to clean up some issues around the joint. The recovery took longer than expected, but I made it back on the field toward the end of the season. I played a few games, was feeling healthy again, and decided to take the summer off after speaking with Jurgen [Klinsmann] and the rest of the staff and obviously my club. We all decided that I would take the summer off to make sure I was healthy for this full season and all the World Cup qualifiers and hopefully the World Cup at the end of the season.
“Unfortunately that didn’t go as planned. I ended up in the first training of preseason getting injured again and had another surgery. I was recovering well after that and maybe looking to come back at the end of preseason and play in one or two games. I continued to have more problems for some reason, and then we had the third and final surgery just two months ago. That seems to have cleared up the problems I was having. I feel really good now back in training and I’m hoping to get my first game in."
ussoccer.com: It must have been a frustrating process continuing to have so many setbacks. How did you deal with that side of things
SC: “It’s always difficult. The older you get the harder it is to come back after surgeries and to do all the rehab and to make sure your level of play is still up to standards where you can compete at a high level internationally and domestically.
“It’s a little difficult what I’m going through right now. If I look at the past almost year, I probably shouldn’t have taken the summer off, but this game is always easy to figure out in retrospect. It’s always difficult to figure it out in the moment. Plus your body does what it wants anyway, especially when you’re over thirty. It’s not an easy process, but it’s behind me, and I just look forward to being back on the field again.”
ussoccer.com: In retrospect, why would you have played through the summer?
SC: “The option was to give myself a break and the other option was to play through the summer. Put it this way, neither of them would have worked. Maybe a mix of the two would have worked. Play a little and then take a break, who knows? These are the informed decisions you make at a certain time. It was important to me to keep the National Team and Jurgen informed and involved, and everybody was. That was the decision I had to make, so no point in looking back and saying I made a mistake. Maybe the outcome could have been different, but I doubt it.
“I’ve played a lot of games in my career internationally and in Germany. Eventually your body says ‘Hey, I need a break.’ That’s kind of what happened with me.”
ussoccer.com: Was there ever a point in this process where you thought about not playing anymore?
SC: “Sure. Training the second half of last season was pain every day. I think the majority of professional soccer players have some sort of pain. When it’s the same thing that hurts every day, playing through that and training through that, it just gets frustrating not being able to play to the ability to you know can play.
“The biggest reason I took last summer off was to try to get back to 100 percent and to my level of play that I’m used to. It’s one of those sad truths that no athlete wants to admit, but you do get older and things start to hurt and start to wear down. I feel really good now after the successful surgery. I feel we have the problem solved, and I’m getting back to normal strength. The other thing that I need now is match fitness. I hope to get that in the next couple weeks.”
ussoccer.com: There have been some impressive results by the National Team this summer at the Gold Cup and in World Cup qualifying. What have your impressions been
from the outside?
SC: “The results have been amazing. There’s been some excellent performances and going through a few World Cup qualifying processes, I know how difficult it is. Any time you can get results in the qualifying process, it’s an amazing achievement. The guys have done an incredible job, the coaching staff as well.
“Looking from the outside in and hopefully still being part of the program, finishing first in CONCACAF qualifying makes me proud. I think the guys deserve every bit of credit they’ve gotten in the media and internally as well. It’s been fun to watch and hopefully I am able to join them soon.”
ussoccer.com: Is it a goal of yours in this process to be on the 23-man roster in May?
SC: “Yes, I think it should be the goal of every player in the pool. Anybody who has ever been to a World Cup knows how special it is, how awesome it is. If that’s something I have a chance to participate in, if I can help the team and the coaching staff deems me that guy who can help either on the field or off the field then I would love to go to Brazil. It’s definitely a goal of mine and if I can stay healthy it’s something I can achieve as well.”
ussoccer.com: Given where you are in your career, what are the things you need to do compete for a spot with the U.S. National Team in Brazil next summer?
SC: “For me, looking back on my career, fitness has never been one of my issues. I recover from injuries fairly quickly and jump on the field without losing too much time as far as fitness goes, and that hasn’t gone away. Conditioning is definitely something I can gain back fairly quickly, so I’m not too concerned with that.
“For me the biggest thing is remaining healthy and giving myself a chance to play week-in, week-out. If that’s the case then I will eventually move back to the level of play that I see myself playing at, and at a level of play that hopefully can help Hannover and the U.S. Men’s National Team in the future.”
ussoccer.com: How is the soccer side of things for you at this point?
SC: “I’ve been training with [Hannover] for two weeks. There has been some improvement on a day-to-day basis. There are still some things I need to sharpen up on. Passing in tight space where the game gets quick and you have to move fast, those are things you lose over a certain amount of time when you’re off the field. Those are things you have to gain back on a daily basis.
“The next step for me is getting back on the field in a match. There’s only so much you can do in training. Match fitness, match situations and scenarios are very important as well and those are the things I’m missing at this time.”
ussoccer.com: What do the coaches at Hannover tell you? Are you ready to take a spot back?
SC: “Yes. I think they’re obviously watching training every day, and I have a good relationship with the coach. We speak about things and, I will give him a heads up when I feel I’m ready. We’ll have a chat later this week. I may not be starting my first game back, but a few minutes here and there would be great. Realistically, as an outside back, you’re either playing 90 or you’re playing zero minutes. That’s the way it goes.”
ussoccer.com: You are also a new father. What’s life like as a dad?
SC: “As everyone always says, it’s a life-changing experience. You suddenly have a totally different focus, and you live for your children. I think having a daughter now has also helped me put the last year in perspective. You realize what things are truly important in life.”