Frustrated after sitting out the past six months with a knee injury, the American full back is hoping to play next weekend as he eyes a spot on the deep U.S. World Cup squadBack in training, the pain in Steve Cherundolo's knee is finally gone. Soon, with any luck, so will the pain of his absence from Hannover's matchday squad.
The veteran United States international full back has tentatively penciled in his side's trip to Werder Bremen on Nov. 3 for his comeback, having not played a competitive match since May. Every second of his recovery has brought him closer to a return, but Cherundolo's six-month absence from the pitch has left him a frustrated man.
Those seconds have felt far longer than their real worth since the 34-year-old injured his knee on the first day of club preseason training in June. He got through 45 minutes in a club friendly on Oct. 17, and said the final phase of his rehabilitation is "moving along as planned."
He has had no shortage of motivation in his recovery. As captain of the Bundesliga club, Cherundolo has found it impossible to be the leader he wants to be at Hannover this season. As a player who desires a place at the 2014 World Cup, he knows there is scant time to waste.
"[It's] frustrating at times, boring at times and it's just a lot of tedious work that you have to do on a daily basis," Cherundolo told Goal. "Positive results coming out of rehab training are very little and usually you won't see them on a daily basis.
"Like I say, it's frustrating, but it's part of the job and I've had it a few times in my career, so I know if you put your head down and work then eventually you'll be back out on the field."
Cherundolo's career has spanned 16 senior club seasons, 87 international caps for his country, and two World Cups (with another he missed through injury). Time, that constant enemy, is ticking down as a player, but Cherundolo hopes he still has enough in the kit bag to recover his spot in Jürgen Klinsmann's U.S. squad by the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Klinsmann's European scout Matias Hamann watched Cherundolo in his return to the pitch and confirmed the defender remains firmly in the USA's thoughts. "Players with his experience are irreplaceable at big tournaments," Hamann later told Neue Presse Hannover.
"For me it's a great sign, a message from Jürgen and his staff that they still [think] I can play a role in the group," said Cherundolo, who added he was "proud" of the "excellent job" the U.S. national team did in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. "If I'm healthy and I can help the team, then I'd love to be part of it," he said.
Cherundolo admits that this is his last chance to play in soccer's biggest tournament.
"It'll certainly be my last cycle with the national team, as far as the whole qualifying process and finishing with the World Cup," he said. "I'm not sure if after the World Cup I'll say, 'Hey, I'm done,' but certainly it'll be my last cycle.
"[It'd mean] a tremendous amount to finish my career on a high note and play at the highest level. Just to be part of the group really, on a personal level … Being part of a roster at World Cup is something special, something you never forget."
With a deep player pool that features several up-and-coming players, Cherundolo feels as though he'd be a leader on the team.
"There's so many things I've learned over the past years that I'd love to hand on to the younger players. I think that's not only something I can do, but it's also my duty and responsibility," he said.
He also hopes that, when he does play his final match, it will be in a Hannover shirt. Affectionately nicknamed 'The Mayor of Hannover,' Cherundolo's San Diego roots are still there in his accent. After 14 years in Hannover, however, it is clear his roots have grown deep on both sides of the Atlantic.
"I can definitely see myself ending my career here. That would be awesome," he said. "I want to play professionally as long as my legs will carry me, and if that can be at Hannover, great. If I have to go somewhere else, then so be it.
"But ideally, I started my career here and it would make sense to finish it here … But we all know how this business works."