LAFC is giving Steve Cherundolo a chance as a manager, but can he succeed on a bigger stage in MLS?

There are many examples of players going straight into retirement management. Barcelona and Spain legend Xavi took the reins of the management of Qatari club Al Sadd just days after the end of his playing career, while Frank Lampard took his first management role in County of Derby 18 months after hanging up his boots. Major League Soccer has also seen a few examples, with Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake) and Ben Olsen (DC United) both rising quickly through the coaching ranks.

Steve Cherundolo took a different path. After an illustrious playing career with the German Hanover 96 team and the United States Men’s National Team, Cherundolo spent seven years gaining experience at almost every level: with the Hanover youth teams, the German Under-15 team or assistant coach roles with Hanover and VfB Stuttgart. Along the way, he earned the coveted UEFA Pro license and last season he led LAFC’s USL branch, the Las Vegas Lights. This long apprenticeship paid off on Monday with the announcement that Cherundolo is the new director of LAFC.

“I have made a conscious decision to go a long way and really learn from scratch, to be better prepared for that day when it comes,” he said. “And it’s here. I never had a timeline, but I also felt that if the time was right, if the situation was right, there would be no hesitation. And that’s where we are now. « 

At first glance, it looks like Cherundolo is making a significant leap in the leadership ranks. His record last year with the Lights was rather humiliating, with six wins and 23 losses in 32 games to record the worst record in the Western Conference. But Las Vegas’ role in the LAFC organization has always been clear – player development, not results – which means Cherundolo’s record has to be viewed through that lens.

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There’s also the resume of the man Cherundolo replaces, Bob Bradley, who left Los Angeles at the end of the 2021 season to take the job at Toronto FC. When Bradley arrived ahead of LAFC’s 2018 expansion season, he had a wealth of experience to draw from. However, this is Cherundolo’s first foray into the management of a first team. It’s not just any team either. LAFC is considered one of the best jobs in the league.

Yet Cherundolo brings with him his own experiences, both in the United States and abroad. He’s well versed in training and playing. The question now is whether he can be successful on a bigger stage.

“I think it’s a transition for sure,” LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington said. « But that’s the one I think [Cherundolo’s] the background shows that it is ready for. And I think, for us, I’ve always seen since I knew Steve at 19 that he had a head coach in his future. And I think I’m not the only one who thought that. We thought that getting to know him last year, what he has to offer and where we are at as a club, now is the right time to give him this opportunity. « 

The respective personalities of Bradley and Cherundolo, at least on the surface, also look very different. Bradley is bursting with intensity while Cherundolo seems more reserved. Will the difference be too shocking?

Cherundolo, for his part, understands that the key is to be your own man, rather than a pure follower of Bradley. Their familiarity with the players on the roster will give them a head start, and it’s worth pointing out that for all of Bradley’s successes in Los Angeles, including the Supporters Shield triumph in 2019, this was a team that didn’t. failed to reach the playoffs last season. A different voice may be exactly what this team needs.

His ability to develop players also caught Thorrington’s attention, and the LAFC general manager pointed to defender Mamadou Fall’s development last season as an example of Cherundolo’s ability to connect and improve players. “If you look at our roster, we have the youngest starting team in the league, and a big part of who we are is developing our players and making them better,” Thorrington said. “Steve is an expert on this. « 

However, it’s not just the new manager who is making a transition – the same can be said of the LAFC roster. Midfielder maestro Eduard Atuesta has left for the Brazilian team Palmeiras. Diego Rossi is set to transfer his loan to Turkish side Fenerbahce to a permanent transfer. Atlanta defenseman Franco Escobar and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi’s acquisitions on Charlotte’s expansion side are solid pickups, and forward Cristian Arango has impressed with 14 goals in about half a working season. , but there is still a long way to go, a fact that Thorrington acknowledged. It’s time to make more moves, which gives Cherundolo confidence in the state of the squad by 2022.

“I think the amount of changes we have is just normal,” Cherundolo said. “The core of the team is coming back, so I don’t think we’re going to rebuild at all. « 

Much of LAFC’s future hinges on the role of star forward Carlos Vela. The former Mexico international’s contract option was picked up, but that only lasts until June. The question of Vela’s future after this is an open question, as is the extent to which Cherundolo can count on him. Thorrington looked like a man whose long-term plans include the Mexico international.

“I think the conversations between Steve and Carlos are very encouraging,” Thorrington said. “These have already taken place. Part of our process, with [candidates] it’s: « What role do you have in mind for Carlos? » Carlos is an essential part of who we are and what we’re going to be. And it was instructive for us to hear the plans that these different candidates had for Carlos. My conversation with Carlos, Steve’s conversation with Carlos, I think [Vela] really excited about the role Steve has planned for him. « 

Cherundolo’s career has allowed him to gain experience with some interesting managers. In addition to Bradley there is new Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick, who managed Hanover from 2001 to 2004. But Cherundolo also credits the UEFA Pro license course to help train him as a manager.

“It’s a long process of developing your own philosophy,” Cherundolo said of the course. “And obviously there are influences. The process of going through it on your own, for me, has been difficult, but also, in the end, very rewarding, as you get to know yourself, I think better, and what you really believe in, and put it all on paper. and make sure it all makes sense. « 

What is Cherundolo’s philosophy? “We will try to be proactive, well balanced and constantly make the right decisions, but at the right time, being also explosive and dangerous,” he said.  » So [it’s] recognize where we are on the pitch and what phase of the game we are in and make sure you are making the right decisions. The more good decisions you make in 90 minutes, the more your chances of winning will increase. « 

In a little less than two months, Cherundolo will be able to put his theories into practice. After seven years, he bet the wait will be worth it.

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