A stubborn knee issue and three rounds of surgery pushed Steve Cherundolo from US national team mainstay to forgotten man over the past year, even driving him to consider retirement from the sport altogether.
Yet the veteran right back finally seems healthy again, and still holds hopes of hauling himself back into the USMNT picture before coach Jurgen Klinsmann selects 23 players for his World Cup squad in May.
“Anybody who has ever been to a World Cup knows how special it is, how awesome it is,” Cherundolo told USSoccer.com this week. “If I can help the team and the coaching staff deems me that guy who can help either on the field or off the field then I would love to go to Brazil. It’s definitely a goal of mine and if I can stay healthy it’s something I can achieve as well.”
Only five USMNT players saw more time than "Dolo" in 2012, but he hasn't donned his country's colors since a 90-minute outing in the 3-1 win over Guatemala in Kansas City that sealed passage to the CONCACAF Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying just over a year ago.
In some of his most in-depth public remarks since then, Cherundolo, 34, admits now that he subsequently played in constant pain over the second half of his German club Hannover 96's 2012-13 season. Even a quiet summer earmarked for rest and recovery could not put his injury nightmare behind him, and he's only now approaching full speed.
“Training the second half of last season was pain every day,” he said. “It’s one of those sad truths that no athlete wants to admit, but you do get older and things start to hurt and start to wear down. I feel really good now after the successful surgery. I feel we have the problem solved, and I’m getting back to normal strength. The other thing that I need now is match fitness. I hope to get that in the next couple weeks.”
Klinsmann has long praised Cherundolo's consistency and leadership. But over the summer even he noted that the San Diego native “is not getting any younger” and had to blood a new crop of right back options, including Brad Evans and Geoff Cameron.
Now the clock is ticking loudly as Cherundolo faces the task of re-establishing himself as a durable, everyday starter for Hannover in time to gain full consideration for the USMNT's activities over the winter and into next spring.
“For me the biggest thing is remaining healthy and giving myself a chance to play week-in, week-out,” he acknowledged. “If that’s the case then I will eventually move back to the level of play that I see myself playing at, and at a level of play that hopefully can help Hannover and the [USMNT] in the future.”