Steve Cherundolo - WORLD CUP: The Ambassador (June 2006)

6/21/2006 5:42:00 PM

By Mike Woitalla in Hamburg

Steve Cherundolo may not be a household name in his own country, but he's a famous, respected and well-liked American in Germany.

The Southern Californian is among the ''Bundesliga's most simpatico players,'' says the Weltfussball Web site. His Hannover 96 bio calls him a perpetual optimist and reads, ''If smiling and laughter hadn't existed on this earth, then Steven Cherundolo would have invented it.''

When the U.S. World Cup team arrived in Hamburg, the German Soccergirlz Web site picked Cherundolo as the team's No. 1 hotty. (Claudio Reyna came in runner-up.)

Cherundolo left the University of Portland after his sophomore season in 1999 to sign with Second Division Hannover 96. In 2002, he helped the team win promotion to the First Division. ''Dolo'' is now co-captain of the team and when he extended his contract through 2008, reportedly turning down an English Premier League offer, Coach Peter Neururer said, ''Excellent!''

Cherundolo, 27, speaks German with hardly an accent. He's a popular interview in the German media and speaks more articulately and diplomatically about American foreign policy -- a major controversy in Germany -- than the U.S. leaders the Germans are used to hearing.

A 5-foot-6 right back, he's celebrated for his attacking prowess, something that helped the USA tie Italy in its second World Cup game. While playing with a 10 vs. 9 advantage, the Italians couldn't sustain assaults on the U.S. goal partly because Cherundolo kept them occupied with charges down the right wing.

''The Italians chose not to pressure us outside backs so there was space to be taken and we exploited that,'' Cherundolo said. ''We did a decent job, but it could have been better.''

In the modern game, the forwards are outnumbered by defenders and teams crowd the midfield. Outside backs are the most likely to find space with the ball. That's why players such as Germany's Philipp Lahm, Brazil's Roberto Carlos, England's Ashley Cole and Argentina's Juan Sorin have become stars.

''It's important for outside backs to attack,'' says Coach Bruce Arena, who by placing the much more defense-minded Carlos Bocanegra at left back puts increased responsibility on Cherundolo to swing in crosses.

Because he is European-based, Cherundolo joins the national team infrequently. At 27, he has fewer than 40 caps, compared to MLS-based 24-year-old Landon Donovan's 80-plus appearances.

Donovan is known in Germany as an American who couldn't make it in the Bundesliga. Cherundolo is the American who thrives in Germany.

''He's a leader at Hannover,'' says Bernd Wehmeyer, the general manager of Hamburg SV, Hannover's northern German rival.

Wehmeyer won a European Cup, in 1983, as an outside back. Like the 5-foot-7 Cherundolo, Wehmayer was a small player.

''I think when you're a small outside back,'' says Wehmeyer, ''you're inclined to attack, because you want to take the control away from the player you're marking. Cherundolo makes like difficult for every opponent he plays against because he's very offensive. He dictates the play and also the rhythm of the game.

''He has good technical skills, strikes good crosses, but he's also a very capable defender.''

Cherundolo is also a main reason why in Hamburg the squad is known as ''Our Americans.''