BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, May 18, 2010
As the US national team assembles this week to prepare for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, US defender Steve Cherundolo looks to bring veteran leadership to a team that consists of few players with World Cup experience.
Cherundolo, 31, will be on his third World Cup roster for the US and one of the key attributes of the US teams has been the unity among the players both on and off the field.
The Rockford, Illinois native feels that it will again be a strong point for the current squad.
"It's very important to rekindle friendships and to bond with the new guys," Cherundolo told YA after practice on Tuesday. "Team building is just as important as the 30 minutes of fitness after training. There's a lot of that going on. One of the qualities of this team has always been the togetherness and the unity of this group. That is something that will be there again in this World Cup."
Cherundolo, as expected, has been a key player for the US this whole cycle.
Despite being injured for last year's Confederations Cup, he knows this squad well and knows what it will take for them to come together as a team.
"In the end of the day, the coach needs to find his 23," he added. "But as a group, for the players, right now we are trying to get fitness and trying to find a rhythm on the field together. We are trying to get to know each other as soccer players, not as people, but as soccer players again. And again, with the help of the three preparation games, we need to find our best eleven."
Cherundolo knows that for the team to find rhythm and work as a cohesive unit, it will not be automatic. The squad will have work hard over the two weeks to achieve that.
"You need to have some structure to it," the former University of Portland star explained. "We are a team that has played a 4-4-2 for a while so I assume we will stick to that. And you have certain guys who play different positions well and play them differently than others."
"So it's two weeks of mixing and matching guys and trying to find out who combines well with who," he continued. "Who complements each other well with the others. It's really a job for the coaching staff to observe that. For us, it is just to give it our all and show different sides of our games."
The US will prepare this week and next on the east coast and then will depart for South Africa where they will have another 12 days of preparation.
After that, the tournament will begin and the team will play England, Algeria, and Slovenia next month in South Africa.
While the opening game against England is drawing the headlines, Cherundolo feels the keys to advancing out of the group will be determined by the final two results.
"England is one of the favorites to win the tournament," Cherundolo analized. "Algeria and Slovenia are comparable to us in the sense that they are good teams and they have qualified for the World Cup through good teamwork. They will be tight games, the second and third games. We are hoping we will be tactically a little more discipline than them. Hopefully we will have an edge in the fitness department and be able to decide the game for us in the last few minutes of the game."
The fitness area of the game has always been widely considered as one of the strengths of any US national team and Cherundolo feels that this is important because it allows the US to play its style throughout the entire game.
"It's important for us to know we are more fit than the other team and that we can run for 90 minutes and can play our style of soccer for 90 minutes," Cherundolo explained. "In order to do that you need to be fit. We need to work hard this week to achieve that. We know that and we will get it done."
"We still have a good amount of time before the first game," he continued. "We have only had two days of camp. The first week is mostly about getting to know each other again on and off the field and, most importantly to get a little extra fitness in before we have our preparation games.
While the US players are working hard to develop their team chemistry and their collective fitness, Cherundolo is also enjoying being part of the team and back in his home country.
The last time he was in the US was in October for the last World Cup qualifier. He said that his injured shoulder still has a little scar tissue but that it doesn't affect his play.
Cherundolo also knows how critical this preparation can be in terms of creating a team that is capable of playing on the sport's biggest stage.
"There are many options," Cherundolo said of choices the coaches must make based on this camp. "Forming a team is not always about fielding your best 11 soccer players. It's putting out the best 11 that work well together and that give this team the best chance to win the game. I think these two weeks are very important for that."