[USA MEN]Steve Cherundolo, the longest-serving member of the U.S. national team and American player abroad, is retiring as a player at the age of 35 because of knee problems. He will remain at German club Hannover 96, which he joined in 1999 out of college and captained in recent years, as an assistant coach with its under-23 team.
Cherundolo was the longest-serving member of the U.S. national team and American player abroad, but three knee surgeries kept him out of the national team for all of 2013 and limited him to seven Bundesliga appearances for Hannover in 2013. His last club game was on Dec. 21.
Cherundolo, who earned his first cap in 1999, was looking to go to his fourth World Cup with the USA. He was injured and did not play in 2002 but started started all three games in 2006 and played every minute of four games in 2010. He played five of six games in the semifinal round of World Cup 2014 qualifying, most notably having an excellent match in the 1-0 win over Jamaica after missing the first game of the home-and-home series, the only game the USA lost, four days earlier.
Cherundolo is a product of the Nomads program in San Diego and was a sweeper in his younger days. He left the University of Portland after his sophomore season to sign with Hannover 96. Its general manager at the time, Hans Gerber, had spotted him playing for the U.S. U-20s on tour in Germany. Cherundolo had already trained with the senior national team as a teenager before the 1998 World Cup and he captained the USA at the 1999 Under-20 World Cup. A knee injury shortly after qualifying cost him a spot on the 2000 Olympic team coached by his UP coach, the late Clive Charles.
He broke into the national team as a starter for Bruce Arena in the 2001 Hexagonal. He he's only 5-foot-6, but his lack of height didn't prevent him from frustrating attackers. The USA won its first three games in the 2001 Hexagonal with Cherundolo at right back. In the 1-0 win over Costa Rica, he so frustrated Hernan Medford that at one point the Tico star whacked a ball into the stands rather than having to take on the young American again.
Cherundolo did not score many goals -- just two with Hannover 96 (one in the first division and the other in the second division) and just two with the U.S. national team (the first a 75-yard strike from distance past Oliver Kahn against Germany) -- but his ability to attack out of the back and link up with players in front of him remains very rare for the American outside back.
No American has excelled at right back for longer than Cherundolo, who was voted on the all-time U.S. Best XI last year. And his absence was immediately felt as Jurgen Klinsmann started five different players at right back in the Hexagonal and seven different players at the position in 2013. It is one of the positions at which there remains uncertainty with just three months to go before the World Cup finals.
U.S. Right Backs, Hexagonal:
Chandler (at Honduras)
Cameron (Costa Rica)
Cameron (at Mexico)
Evans (at Jamaica)
Orozco (at Costa Rica)
Evans (at Panama)
Cherundolo retires as Hannover 96's career leader with 302 Bundesliga appearances. When he signed, Hannover 96 was in the second division, where played 68 games. He quickly learned German after he arrived, which greatly eased his move. He immediately became a fan favorite, earning the nickname "Mayor of Hannover." He was also a team leader, serving as captain after being on the club's player council.
“I have got to know Steven Cherundolo over the past 15 years at Hannover 96 as a model professional and a responsible person with a strong character," said Hannover 96 president Martin Kind at a press conference on Wednesday. "He has had unparalleled success in his career at 96 and is extraordinarily faithful to his club. We secured promotion to the Bundesliga with him, established ourselves as a top-flight club and he captained us in two Europa League campaigns."