31914_isi_cherundolosteve_usmntjd10082009199 John Dorton/isiphotos.com
Career Retrospective

Steve Cherundolo's Hall of Fame Career: A Look Back

The 35-year-old Illinois native announced his retirement today, and ASN's Brooke Tunstall is convinced that Steve Cherundolo is destined for the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
BY Brooke Tunstall Posted
March 19, 2014
3:28 PM
IF SOCCER HALL OF FAME voters—commonly referred to as soccer journalists—have matured the way many of us like to think they have, Steve Cherundolo should have little trouble getting the red jacket that comes with induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

Making three World Cup teams ought to make him a no-brainer. But Cherundolo, who retired as a player today at age 35 after 15 seasons with Germany’s Hannover 96, has operated outside the consciousness of many Hall of Fame voters. And there’s even a school of thought that suggests a player of this era who never played in Major League Soccer hasn’t done enough for the growth of the game in this country to warrant inclusion in the Hall.

He and Oguchi Onyewu are the only players in the Top 50 of the U.S. national team’s all-time cap list who were active players since MLS started who never played in the league. So as good as he may have been at the club and national team level, he didn’t do it where most of the voters could see him week-in, week-out. And he didn’t get to add a plethora of MLS honors to his resume—things many voters consider when marking their ballots.

What may also count against Cherundulo is his national team career lacking one or two signature moments. Yes, the thinking will go, he was good but what were his most memorable games?

That, and the natural inclination of voters to ignore those whose club career was largely out-of-sight and thus out-of-mind. But out of (their) minds is what voters would need to be to ignore Cherundolo’s HOF merits.

It’s not just the three World Cup teams or the fact that no one else who is eligible for the Hall who played on at least three World Cup teams has been excluded from getting a red jacket. It’s not the 87 caps, which is tied for 19th all-time among American players, or the fact that every eligible player for the Hall (meaning they’ve been retired for at least 3 years) who is in the Top 20 of the U.S.’ all-time cap list has been inducted to it.

And it’s not that he was recently voted to U.S. Soccer’s All Time Best XI as part of the federation’s 100-year anniversary, an honor that by itself should seal the deal for the Hall.

No, what should get “Dolo” his place in the Hall is his consistency and reliability. Since 2002 Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley and, for the first part of his tenure, Jurgen Klinsmann could consistently pencil Cherundolo’s name onto the lineup sheet whenever he was healthy and know that they could focus their worries elsewhere. Right back, when Cherundolo was playing, was set. (And please note that since he last played for the U.S. in 2012, right back has become one of the hardest positions to fill and remains a question mark for the U.S. less than three months before the start of the World Cup.)

Consistency is what defines Cherundolo’s career, both with his country and his club. That’s why he only had one pro team his entire career. How many elite players in this era from any country can make that claim?

How long has Cherundolo been at Hannover? Think about this: when he joined the club in January of 1999, fresh off his sophomore season at Portland, Monica Lewinsky jokes were still current, David Beckham was single, and Doug Logan was still commissioner of MLS. When Cherundolo joined Hannover the team was still in the second division in Germany but in 2002 it dominated its way to a championship and, much like Cherundolo, steadily got better. The club is now a consistent—there’s that word again—contender for Europa Cup spots, having made good runs in the competition the past two seasons. Along the way, he became one of the few Americans to take the captain’s armband for a European club—another honor that should stop any debate about his Hall inclusion.

Few, if any, players in American soccer history have been as consistently good for both club and country as Cherundolo has. Here’s hoping the voters reward that consistency when his name first appears on the Hall of Fame ballot.

What do you think—is Cherundolo a first-ballot inductee into the National Soccer Hall of Fame? Share your take below.

Brooke Tunstall is a veteran journalist who has covered Major League Soccer since its initial player dispersal draft. You can follow him on Twitter.

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