Leave it to the most experienced internationalveteran on the U.S. Gold Cup roster to give this tournamentperspective.
U.S right back Steve Cherundolo has been hurt since November. Hehad hip surgery in April. The 30-year-old defender was home lastmonth while the Americans shocked top-ranked Spain in theConfederations Cup in South Africa, then led Brazil by two goalsbefore losing 3-2 in Sunday's final.
So for Cherundolo, getting back his starting job by playing inthe CONCACAF Gold Cup is as big as playing Spain or Brazil lastweek would have been. Right?
"Our goal is obviously to win the tournament. Anyone whodoesn't have that goal shouldn't be here," said Cherundolo, whohas 51 appearances with U.S.
He joins veteran scorer Brian Ching as the two regular nationalteam starters returning from injury to join the Americans' questfor a third consecutive regional championship for North and CentralAmerican and the Caribbean. The 12th-ranked U.S. opens Saturdaynight against Grenada, a tiny island nation ranked 88th in theworld.
"It's a different tournament," Cherundolo said. "I don'tthink it's comparable at all. There's a lot more travel involvedbetween games within the country. The teams are different, thelevel of competition is, as well.
"But our goal is to win."
The Americans have never lost in Gold Cup group play, going21-0-1. The tie was on July 12, 2005, with Costa Rica inFoxborough, Mass. That's where the U.S. will play its final matchof the opening round, on July 11 against Haiti. That will followWednesday's game in Washington, D.C., against Honduras.
Haiti and Honduras play the first game of Saturday'sdoubleheader at Qwest Field, home of Major League Soccer'sexpansion Seattle Sounders.
Coach Bob Bradley has given most of the national team's regularsthe next few weeks off before the start of the European preseasonor allowed them to return to their MLS teams. Only four of the 23players on the original Gold Cup roster were at the ConfederationsCup before CONCACAF allowed the travel-weary Americans to add sevenmore players Thursday. Charlie Davies was the only one of the fourwho played in South Africa.
"We know that at times there are many different factors thatget considered when putting a roster together," Bradley said."But once we are together, our focus is to go about our businessand the way we play. This is an important tournament, thechampionship of our confederation. We are excited about defendingour title."
Cherundolo, who grew up in San Diego, is just excited to beback. And relieved. He played through pain for months aftercolliding with a Hannover teammate during training last fall. Heeventually missed the second half of the Bundesliga season plusfive World Cup qualifiers and Confederations Cup following surgeryApril 20 to remove a calcification in his hip. He had to wait thatlong because the joint was too swollen to operate on it.
He said he needs to improve his in-game fitness, and Bradleysaid he isn't sure when Cherundolo will be able to play a full gameagain.
Jonathan Spector has become the recent starter at right back.Cherundolo views the Gold Cup as a path back to his starting jobs,with the World Cup less than a year away and a little more than amonth to Hannover's Bundesliga opener at Hertha Berlin on Aug. 8.
"Everybody here has to take advantage of every game he has,every minute he has," he said. "Yes, of course I see it as anopportunity - as well as a chance to get back in the mix regularly.
"In professional soccer, in professional sports, things goquick. One day you can be the starter, the next day someone elsecan take your spot."
Bradley has a plan for Cherundolo, who with Jimmy Conrad andSantino Quaranta are the three members of this U.S. team who playedon the 2005 Gold Cup champion.
"It's great to have him back. That's first," the coach said."We'll need to be smart on how we will use him, but the ideacertainly is to get him some games so that when he gets back toHannover that he's moving the ball well, and that gets him backinto play for (World Cup) qualifying coming up."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times