Steve Cherundolo is one of the best American football players ever.
However, “The May or Hannover”, as he was affectionately called due to his long career with the Bundesliga club, was among the most underrated members of the US men’s national team.
His importance only became more apparent in the years after his retirement from international football in 2012, as the United States struggled to replace the right-back.
For years, the USMNT has been content to do it, moving players to fill in the gaps amid a revolving door of new faces entering and exiting the squad.
But that is changing. What was once a weak position is arguably the greatest strength in American football today. For the first time in recent memory, there isn’t just one high-profile full-back in the US player pool; there are many.
There’s Sergino Dest in Barcelona, a Swiss Army Knife that can feature on either side. There’s Reggie Cannon at Boavista, a player destined sooner or later for higher levels of the game. There’s Antonee Robinson, from Fulham, and Bryan Reynolds, the future signing of Juventus who will have a say at one time or another
And these are not the only ones. Suddenly the United States has a legitimate depth on the outside.
“Sometimes it’s a generational question, but often it’s just timing,” Cherundolo said when asked how his old job suddenly became one of strength.
“I wouldn’t use the word luck. I just think maybe it’s a combination of, when a position opens up to a national team, a lot of players shoot for that position, and some players adjust to. this post.
“It’s a number of things that come together at the same time. And it’s great that things don’t go like clockwork.”
This merger follows years of difficulties. At the 2014 World Cup, the last the United States participated in, converted wingers Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley were the main full-backs. These two remained in the picture for years to come, while Graham Zusi, Tim Ream, and Matt Besler were converted to play wide at one point or another.
Players like Jorgen Villafana, Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj were also involved, but none have really shone like the current crop. The only player who really stood out was DeAndre Yedlin, who secured a transfer to the Premier League after facing Eden Hazard in the 2014 World Cup.
But none have locked the post as regularly as Cherundolo, who currently works as a youth coach for the German federation and is tasked with helping educate the next generation of stars. Most of Germany’s top footballers have made the Bundesliga their home, at least at the start of their careers, giving clubs in the bigger countries an advantage.
“One of the challenges of the US national team is that we have players in Europe, we have players all over the world,” Cherundolo said. “And one of the advantages, perhaps, of DFB or [English] FA a is that all your best talents are already playing in your country.
“It’s very easy to keep an eye on the clubs, to go ahead and say, ‘Hey listen, we need an outside fullback, maybe we can push this player’, and that ‘ is something that the US national team has always fought for. It has always been difficult. So I think these generational gaps are only natural because half of our team is playing on the other side of the globe and the other half play in the United States. “
Knowing this, the current core USMNT right-back is, for lack of a better word, staggering. Dest, Cannon and Reynolds are not far from the firsts of their careers and are already playing or heading to the top level.
And, as they say, a rising tide lifts all boats. Julian Araujo, who started on the right in a December win over El Salvador, has been linked with Tottenham and Juventus in recent weeks as away teams start to look more and more at America’s best defenders .
Yedlin, at just 27, is the oldest statesman in this group. Just a month or two ago it looked like Yedlin was quite far from the game at Newcastle but in recent weeks he has struggled, pushing his way back into Steve Bruce’s starting XI in the Premier League.
With his contract expiring this summer, Yedlin’s future remains uncertain, but his performances over the past month have proven he could still have a role to play, even if he’s just a super-under- sailor who changes the game because of his still electric rhythm.
The left-back, meanwhile, is not as strong. Robinson is the favorite, having been a bright spot for Fulham this season, while Dest could move to that side given the depth to the right. Sam Vines, who started against El Salvador, is also a young option, only 21 years old.
While there are certainly more names on the right than on the left, there are still a lot of options to choose from when it comes to putting this puzzle together, and virtually all of them are eligible for the Olympics, which is great news for those who want to compete. American U-23s. boss Jason Kreis.
“I’m not sure how it all could have been at the same time, as far as the rear is concerned … I look at things a little more generally and say the amount of super, super high youngsters potential players who have been produced in our football system right now are fantastic, ”said Kreis.
He added: “I think we have complained a lot in the past, however long it may be, about the lack of development and the lack of good coaches in our country, et cetera, so I think when we can, we need to take a moment and say that all of the people who have been involved in our youth development program have done an incredible job, in my opinion, to bring all of these players to where they are now. “
With many of these top full backs playing at top clubs, Cherundolo says they already have an advantage over players like him.
During his time in Hanover, Cherundolo’s sides were never among those competing for the top of the Bundesliga. Instead, they were more often the team that struggled to survive. And with that comes a more defensive style of play.
With the USMNT, however, the full-backs will have to attack more often than not. Aside from a few big games a year, the United States will almost always be at the forefront, especially in World Cup qualifying.
Having that extra player in the attack who can shake something up could be the difference between escaping Central America with extra points or being completely shut out of the fun of the World Cup like in 2018.
“My job as an outside full-back was mostly defensive,” Cherundolo explained, “and coming into the national team, besides playing in the World Cup, playing against Mexico and friendlies in Europe, it’s mostly offensive.
“It’s really a very different position. I think it’s unique for the outside full-backs in the United States for the United States national team because you’re going to need those more offensive players. I know Gregg. [Berhalter, USMNT head coach] and how he wants to play.
“You look at Sergino Dest, who grew up in Holland, his football career in Holland playing for Ajax, it’s definitely a very offensive way of interpreting that position. It fits in perfectly with the US national team. . “
The Fullback is not the only strength of the USMNT. All you need to do is activate the Champions League to see players like Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams play at the highest level of the game.
But the rise of the American rear has been particularly gentle given the struggles of years past. For years the United States has been clamoring for a Cherundolo replacement, and they’ll have a few to split up in a busy 2021 with World Cup, Gold Cup, Nations League and Olympics qualifiers. .
“Looking back on my own career, I didn’t think I would be a complete player until I was 31,” Cherundolo said, “where I was still physically able to run with the best, but mentally and tactically I had I saw it all a bit. and I was mentally ready for anything. My best football was played when I was 31, so sometimes these things take a long time. “
Robinson is 23 years old. Cannon is 22 years old. Dest is 20 years old. Reynolds? Only 19. The weather is very important for the USMNT.
After waiting nearly a decade to find an alleged heir, it appears there are now several set to set a new standard in the coming decade.