DAVID SMITH - Friday, June 25, 2010
Following a second straight game decided on a late goal by the Americans, Steve Cherundolo feels the team's undying belief in their ability to pull out such dramatic results fuels their repeated heart-stopping finishes.
With the team having found themselves entering added time in their final group game against Algeria needing a goal in the dying moments to avoid an early flight home, the defensive stalwart recalls the thought process leading up to Landon Donovan's historic score.
"The time is ticking, and as the clock ticks down you have less chances to score and to achieve your goal, which was to move onto the next round," he recounts. "It's kind of disappointing feeling when it's in the 89th or 90th minute and we still haven't scored."
As the chances of the Americans grabbing a vital winning goal waned in those final minutes, Cherundolo insists the team remained steadfast in the belief that not only could they muster the strength to break through, but similarly to five days before, they would.
"However as I said, this team is a little different and we'll always believe in ourselves and believe that we can score at any time in the game. And sure enough we did."
The two goals - one of which was controversially disallowed - in the final ten minutes of the US' previous game against Slovenia and their heart-stopper in the follow-up contest showed their propensity for fighting until the final whistle, and demonstrates a quality which the longtime Hannover player feels is a continued strength of the team in such tournaments.
"Until the referee blows his whistle we always have a chance and this didn't only happen [against Algeria] but also in the past," he stated.
With each of the three Group C games having offered their own unique mix of drama, luck and pluck, the Americans' 2010 campaign has in some ways taken on the character reminiscent of a movie script.
This is inconsequential to Cherundolo and his teammates in their own attitude as they enter the final knockout stage, with the only foreseen effect being on opposing teams who might be apprehensive of coming up against a squad on such a run.
"We want to do something special here this whole time, and I think we're on our way to doing that," he explains, adding "but I don't think we would consider ourselves a team of destiny."
"I think maybe that's more important for our opponents. I think teams might start to look at us and think 'this team is on a serious run, they're a tough team to beat, things seem to be going well late in the game for them.' But we're not concentrating on that."
One undeniable factor the team does have in its favor is the momentum and colossal lift from not only their win over the Algerians, but the feat of taking first place in the group over favorites England.
"It's an unbelievable feeling, not only to move on but also to finish first in the group," he beams. "That was our goal, and I think the win was deserved. This team is something different."
One possibly fortuitous outcome of winning Group C is that Cherundolo and company will have the good fortune of avoiding Group D winners Germany, a team which is always regarded with a high degree of reverence in any international tournament, no matter what the surrounding circumstances.
As one of several players on the US squad to ply his trade in Germany's Bundesliga, the Hannover 96 vice-captain still relishes the opportunity to go up against the players he faces on a weekly basis during the domestic season, however only at a later stage of the competition.
"I would love to play against Germany," he admits. "I'd rather play against them in the final, but it would be something special for myself and the other guys that play in Germany."
"It's a team that I know very well but we'll just have to wait and see. Right now we're just ecstatic about finishing first and getting to play in Rustenburg, a place we like."
The one-club man is expected to sign a contract extension with the Lower Saxony-based team upon returning to Hannover after the US completes their World Cup run.
His ties to the Germany extend far beyond his team affiliation as his wife is a native and citizen of the country. As to whether a household rift in team allegiance will arise in the event the Americans' storied run sets up a final date with the country of his wife's birth, Cherundolo has no question as to which colors she'll be wearing.
"I think that's pretty easy," he chuckles, "she'll definitely support the United States."