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Steve Cherundolo
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Steve Cherundolo

2021 Inductee

Defender

D

To many German soccer fans, he is known as the Mayor of Hannover.

It is an unofficial title, although Steve Cherundolo established himself as a fan favorite and defensive pillar for Hannover 96 during an incredible 16 seasons, patrolling the right flank as an outside back in the Bundesliga. He was one of the most accomplished American players to play abroad.

To many U.S. Men’s National Team supporters, Cherundolo became Mr. Dependable and Mr. Consistency, as he had the right stuff and then some at a position that can be difficult to fill with players who possess the proper attacking and defensive abilities.

In an era in which players have been known to jump from club to club with multi-million dollar transfer fees in the offing, Cherundolo played his entire career with one team. Because he was thousands of miles away from American soccer fans and German matches were not as readily available on TV or streaming, a regular spotlight never shined on the tidy right back.

Yet, several USMNT head coaches — Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley and Jürgen Klinsmann — realized the 5-foot-6, 145-pound defender's worth as Cherundolo donned the Red, White and Blue jersey 87 times for his country during a 14-year span while excelling at his craft. He’s among a small group of players to appear on three FIFA World Cup rosters (2002, 2006 and 2010) and helped the U.S. capture the 2005 Concacaf Gold Cup.

Regardless of the level, Cherundolo, 42, always enjoyed great success in soccer. He was born in Rockford, Ill., and was raised in La Jolla, Calif., helping the La Jolla Nomads to an impressive six California South Soccer Association (Cal South) State Cup titles.

Under the tutelage of the late, great Clive Charles at the University of Portland, Cherundolo said he became a man while raising the level of his game and turning into one of the top defenders in the country. He earned West Coast Conference freshman of the year honors, certainly no mean feat for an outside back.

In fact, Cherundolo was so good that he attracted interest across the pond.

So, at the age of 19 in January 1999, he decided to leave school after only two seasons and take a chance, signing with Hannover 96. It was a time when not many, if any, Americans quit college or decided to forgo possibly performing in Major League Soccer to play professionally in Europe.

It turned out to be a gamble well taken. Hannover 96 recently had moved up to the 2. Bundesliga, but the team didn't stay too long at that level as Cherundolo played a major role in the club gaining promotion to the top tier during the 2001-02 season.

Combining skill, a high soccer IQ and a relentless desire to excel, Cherundolo make life difficult for anyone who dared try to bring the ball down the left flank on attack. 

Not surprisingly, that grit and success translated to the international level as well.

A standout for the U.S. Under-18 and U-20 squads, he co-captained the team to an 11th-place finish at the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria before making his full international debut in a 2-2 draw against Jamaica in Kingston, Jamaica, on Sept. 8, 1999.

He became a consistent performer on the right side of the backline for almost a decade and a half. He found the net twice for the U.S., in away friendlies against Germany (4-1 loss on March 22, 2006) and South Africa (1-0 win on Nov. 17, 2007) in the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup.

Cherundolo's most memorable matches came on the world's greatest stage at the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups. A late replacement for the injured Chris Armas for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Cherundolo himself was sidelined himself with an injury he suffered in South Korea. He needed to wait another four years to play in Germany, starting all three group-stage matches before the USMNT was eliminated.

Four years later at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, he helped the U.S. reach the Round of 16, assisting on a Landon Donovan goal in a 2-2 group stage draw with Slovenia. Cherundolo was one of five USMNT players to play every minute of the competition.

His seven FIFA World Cup matches is among the most by USMNT defenders.

When Cherundolo was in the lineup, the U.S. posted a 45-27-15 mark.

His 13-year run with the National Team ended in 2012, and chronic knee problems forced him to hang up his boots for good after the 2013-14 Bundesliga season. By then, the right back had played 370 league matches for the club (302 in the Bundesliga and 423 across all competitions). He also captained Hannover 95 times from 2010 until his retirement.

His affinity for Hannover and Germany grew as Cherundolo married Mandy Rosier on New Year's Eve 2009 and settled down with his family in the city's suburbs. Since retiring as a player, he has coached several Hannover 96 youth sides, while serving as an assistant coach with the full team, VfB Stuttgart and the USMNT, and most recently as the Germany U-15 assistant coach.

These days, fans can listen to Cherundolo as analyst on the ESPN+ telecasts of Bundesliga matches, talking about the current generation of UWMNT players such as John Brooks, Gio Reyna, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent and Chris Richards, among others.

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