Steve Cherundolo wasn’t at his best late in Hannover’s season, which is why the entrenched incumbent at U.S. right back was on the bench to begin the month at his longtime Bundesliga home.
But he was a first-time candidate for a month, and he did get back in the starting lineup for Hannover’s season finale. So Cherundolo seemed like a shoe-in to make Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster for the upcoming friendlies and the (far more important) World Cup qualifiers ahead.
Thus, it caught more than a few of us off guard when the best U.S. outside back over the last decade (by a long, long way, really) was omitted.
U.S. Soccer officials went out of their way to say this was not performance-related; this isn’t about a lack of faith that Cherundolo could handle the job. Rather, they said, it was precautionary and by mutual consent. They didn’t want to risk further wear, tear or injury on the knee that kept the smart, skillful right back out for so much of the spring. And neither did the player himself, apparently.
They all want the best version of Cherundolo for down the road, and fair enough.
But this looks like a mighty big gamble for all parties.
Timothy Chandler’s knee injury leaves the pool of U.S. outside backs fairly shallow. If we are talking about front line men who can reasonably be expected to handle the job, especially when the going gets tough, there are about 2.5 qualified outside back among the 28 names listed today.
Geoff Cameron, most likely, just became an outside back. That’s where he played in the most recent pair of U.S. qualifiers, the snowy white win over Costa Rica and the worthy, scoreless draw in Mexico. And that’s where the former Houston Dynamo man lines up for Stoke City now.
Then there’s Fabian Johnson, with converted midfielder DaMarcus Beasley representing the “.5.” Johnson has
Klinsmann’s reasoning here is easy enough to see – but it will still make for some nervous tummies. It’s really about the collective youth along that back line, one that will not have Carlos Bocanegra. The former captain remains too far down in the pecking order for now.
Cherundolo’s “been there, done that” factor is pure gold now. So why not bring him in for the Cleveland camp and then evaluate his health along the way? That’s what they will do with Brek Shea, after all. He hasn’t played a bit lately for Stoke City, still nursing an injury.
Yes, they need a healthy Cherundolo for the fall qualifiers – and probably for Brazil 2014, too. But what if they get themselves in a pickle before then? Yellow card suspensions, ejections and injuries do happen, after all.
And by taking Cherundolo, Cameron’s ability to be a center back once again adds good depth at two spots.
Again, it smells like a risk. But as we know, Klinsmann’s is hardly risk averse. He’s rolled them dice before.