A chat with Steve Cherundolo
U.S. defender Steve Cherundolo is being counted on to be a stalwart for the U.S. national team in its World Cup appearance this month. Cherundolo, 27, toils professionally for Hannover 96 in Germany and was recently subjected to the ESPN.com hotseat:
Steve Cherundolo: I think we are a true team. We'll never quit. We're better soccer players than everybody takes us for. We like to have a good time. Our confidence is OK; it could be higher. It could and probably should be higher, but it's fine and we're there to win.
ESPN.com: What should people know about the World Cup?
SC: It dwarfs any sporting event in America, whether it's the Super Bowl, basketball championship, World Series. It dwarfs that and I hope the Americans catch on to it and can understand it on the level that the rest of the world understands it.
ESPN.com: What should we know about the fervor fans have for soccer in Europe?
SC: It's just such a tradition. It's what they live for. An example: in 1954 Germany won the World Cup, and at that point in time the Germans were not exactly proud of their history and they had a hard time, and that brought pride back into their nationality and into their country. Something as simple as a soccer tournament and a soccer team, in one game, can change the entire atmosphere in the country. This is how these players in these countries go about these games.
ESPN.com: What's the best thing about playing in Europe?
SC: The passion of the fans really gets you going. I understand there are 50,000 experts in the stands, not just 50,000 fans, and that makes a difference and keeps you on your toes. You really have to be up for every game, no matter who you're playing. It creates for a stressful job, if I can use that word in a professional sport, but it certainly does. It makes going out and training each day and working out much more enjoyable.
ESPN.com: What's the worst thing about playing in Europe?
SC: The worst thing is when you lose, you have 50,000 enemies. You know, people yelling at you in the city, you have 10 newspapers writing about you, it can make your public life, your personal life, miserable for at least that week. But that's the beauty of this sport: you have, every week, a chance to redeem yourself or to become a hero.
ESPN.com: What are the good things off the field about playing in Europe? The bad things?
SC: You're a public person, you're recognized as a professional soccer player, and that is comparable to being a basketball player, a football or baseball player here. That has its ups and downs. There are perks -- you don't wait in lines. But I guess the bad part is that you don't have much of a private life anymore.
ESPN.com: Are you treated to limos and stuff like that? Europe can be pretty good with the perks.
SC: You know, the limo thing hasn't really caught on over there.
ESPN.com: Streets are too narrow.
SC: Yeah, either you go in a limo or in your own car, you can only sit down on your own ass in one place. But, not waiting in lines, an entire city standing behind you when you win, it's pretty neat.
ESPN.com: How's your German?
SC: It's pretty good.
ESPN.com: Sprechen sie deutsch?
SC: Si, ja.
ESPN.com: Not including your own team, who has the best chance of winning the World Cup?
SC: I think one of the European-based clubs. The Germans you've got to favor, being in their own country is a huge advantage. I like a lot of teams. I think England's got a strong squad and I hope to see them -- until they meet the U.S. -- go real far.
ESPN.com: Who gets the most grief on the U.S. team and why?
SC: The most grief? Nobody gets a lot of grief. There's a few jokesters in the team. Who comes to mind? My roommate, Carlos Bocanegra, is one. Chris Albright and Ben Olsen are another two. I think there's a running battle as to who's the top jokester on the team, or at least who gets the most grief out of those three.
ESPN.com: What's the funniest things one of those guys has pulled?
SC: Till now, it's just a whole lot of nicknames and jokes. Not a whole lot of stunts or anything like that.
ESPN.com: No shaving cream in the shoes?
SC: It might get to that, but up until now we haven't had any of that.
ESPN.com: Does that help team camaraderie?
SC: Absolutely. But it's stuff like you wouldn't find, for example, in a German team. Their mentality, their humor doesn't suit that. But that's totally up our alley here and you'll see more of that every day. More verbally than with actions, but, yeah, that definitely helps a team come together.
ESPN.com: What are some of the better nicknames?
SC: My roommate, Carlos Bocanegra, we call him Carl. Where that came from, I don't know. He's recently picked one up called "Catfish," so we combine the two for "Carl the Catfish."
ESPN.com: Where does the "Catfish" come from?
SC: I can't tell you that.
ESPN.com: Team secret?
SC: Yeah. Who else do we have? Benny, his name is "Billy." We call Albright "Hollywood."
ESPN.com: Because he's styling all the time?
SC: He just looks good. He looks like he belongs in Hollywood. They call me "Schven," because they think I'm German and I've been there so long. That's just a couple. Everyone has a nickname.
ESPN.com: What's the funniest thing you've seen on the field during a game?
SC: Funniest thing in a game? Usually things that happen during a game aren't funny.
ESPN.com: How about the weirdest thing?
SC: The weirdest thing? We've had a few streakers. You see it on TV on ESPN a lot or on TV shows. But when you're on the field when the guy's coming out there, it's kind of weird. That's probably the weirdest thing.
ESPN.com: What's the most ridiculous request made to you by a fan?
SC: To go out on a date. I actually get that all the time.
ESPN.com: Ever met anybody that way?
SC: Yeah. I have a foundation there I started and we actually auctioned off an afternoon coffee and we raised a little money for my foundation, so that was kind of cool.
ESPN.com: What's the biggest challenge building a team made up of players from such a big and diverse country? There's really no comparison among other teams.
SC: I think half the team is split up between Europe and the United States. And going through the entire qualifying process, we're all pretty used to it, so I don't really see it being a problem. It's just basically not using it as an excuse with time zone changes and the long travel. We're all used to that and once you get it in your mind that it doesn't matter and it can't affect your play, then it's no problem at all. I think we do a pretty good job of that.
ESPN.com: So do the West Coast guys hang around with each other, the East Coast guys with each other, or is it more a U.S.-Europe divide?
SC: Nah, it's all pretty mixed and that's what's good about this team. Bruce [Arena] does a nice job of matching guys who work well together, and it's all about team camaraderie. That's our strength. We know that and we want to use that. Everybody gets along with everybody real well. I don't think we've ever had a problem with this team.
ESPN.com: Have you offered any insight to the team about Germany? The fans, the fields?
SC: Most of the players have been there at least once. I've been trying to throw in a few tips here and there. But it really makes it that much better when you go over there and you just take it in for what it is when you get there. Once you get over there, everyone will feel and understand the excitement and buzz around the World Cup. Each player's going to take that in on his own and the more you prepare for it, the less exciting it is. I think that is part of the excitement going over there, not knowing what to expect.
ESPN.com: What's going to be the most rewarding thing to you about representing Team USA?
SC: Exactly that: representing the USA and this country's soccer program is a great honor, and I hope to represent the country well in my own second backyard in Germany, so that would be pretty sweet.