A tested right defender for both the United States national team and in the German Bundesliga, Steve Cherundolo talked to DW-WORLD about teething troubles as a US player in a German team and his World Cup expectations.
As the United States' lone goal scorer Wednesday night, Steve Cherundolo was one of the handful of American players able to make a good impression on national team coach Bruce Arena in the team's 4-1 loss to Germany. An accomplished right back and deputy captain for the Bundesliga's Hanover 96, Cherundolo joined the US team in 2001 and is now among the young team's internationally experienced players.
DW-WORLD.DE: Why did you end up in Germany, as opposed to somewhere else in Europe?
Steve Cherundolo: It's always been a dream of mine to play in Europe. I grew up watching the FA English football and grew up having English coaches, but to get a work permit you can't go there at a young age. I had an opportunity to come to Germany when I was 19. At that time the manager of Hanover 96 saw me play and asked me to come back, and I didn't let the opportunity pass.
Getting ahead in Europe takes patience, said Cherundolo, right
Your national team colleague Landon Donovan left Bayer Leverkusen and has had a lot of success in the US league. Is it difficult to break through in Germany?
The mentality here is difficult, and I think they try to beat you down and build you up in their own way, with their own set of rules. I think it's difficult for young kids to come over here and learn that. The thing you need the most is patience and you have to be in a position to wait. Landon wasn't. Landon is a good enough player to play over here, without a doubt at any club in Germany, but he was able to progress and have a good thing going for him in the States. I had to wait here, and if you do wait your turn it will come around if you're patient. If you allow yourself to adapt to certain things here, you don't have to change, but you do have to adapt.
You're the deputy captain at Hanover and Gregg Berhalter is captain at Energie Cottbus in the second division. Are you, as Americans, accepted as team leaders?
First and foremost you have to bring performance week in and week out, that's the most important criteria, and on top of that you need to be a leader in training, and you can't be involved in any stupid things off the field. It doesn't mean you can't have fun, but you have to be a little responsible and always try to be positive. I think that fits our mentality as Americans anyway -- to always be positive and never give up. I think that's something that they (the Germans) admire and respect.
Germany beat the USA 1-0 in the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals
The US team reached the quarter-finals four years ago. What do you expect of this World Cup in Germany?
It's going to be a great event. It's going to be better than the last World Cup as far as organization and fan support go. I expect three very tough games for us. I'm looking forward to getting all the preparation over with and just get on the field against the Czech Republic in the first game in Gelsenkirchen. We're concentrating on the preparation for the first round and that's going to be tough enough to get through as it is. If we do get through, we'll look to see who we play in the second round and go from there.
You have Italy and Ghana in your group as well. Is that one of the hardest groups?
Everybody says it's one of the hardest. I think one of the reasons why it's a difficult group is because we're there, too. And Ghana is no pushover either. For most people there are two favorites in the group, for me there are four very strong teams.
Germany's Bernd Schneider, left, fought Cherundolo for the ball during a friendly match in Dortmund
After your game against Poland in Kaiserslautern, US fans at the nearby Ramstein Air Base said they wanted to make your match against Italy in Kaiserslautern like a home game for the US. How big do you think the fans support will be and how important is it for the team?
I think it's very important. A pro-US crowd is something that we rarely have, even in the United States. If we could have that at the world's biggest stage, at a World Cup, at one of the most important games for us, that would mean all the world to us. I think against Poland in the second half when we went ahead, you heard the fans and you saw a difference in our play. The guys were more confident on the ball and we really, really played well in the second half against Poland. If we could have that kind of atmosphere against Italy that would be fantastic.