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MNT in Germany: Behind the Scenes

The Mayor of Hannover: U.S. Defender Steve Cherundolo is Revered Among the German Bundesliga Team’s Fan Base

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Steve Cherundolo

IN THE IMAGE: Steve Cherundolo has been a fixture at Hannover since 1999, maintaining one of the steadiest professional careers of any U.S. player in Europe.

ussoccer.com and Studio 90 are both on the road to continue filming with MNT players for an upcoming video series to air later in 2012. Having spent time in February with Michael Bradley in Verona and recently with Jozy Altidore in Alkmaar, the crew is in Hannover to check in with defender Steve Cherundolo.

Respect is the first word that comes to mind when you hear the people of Hannover talk about Steve Cherundolo.

Whether they are teammates, fans on the street, or the diminutive Italian transplant who serves him espresso every morning, they speak of respect for his play. They respect his commitment to the club after 13 years. And they respect how he treats everyone in his adopted city.

Cherundolo is so well-liked that he has been given the nickname “The Mayor of Hannover,” but he is quick to point out it wasn’t his idea. Ask if he minds, and you just get a big grin…

Hannover 96 is enjoying an amazing two-year run that includes a fourth-place finish in the Bundesliga and the quarterfinals of the Europa League. Sitting in seventh place with three matches remaining, Hannover is knocking on the doorstep of another trip to European competition.

One other impressive note: Hannover is the only team in the league that is unbeaten at home this season. And the run has been presided over by Cherundolo, the team captain and the man whose combination of California laid-back and team-first mentality are the perfect fit for the club.

“We’re a very opportunistic team,” Cherundolo said. “Teams don’t like to come here. We have a really good way of luring our opponent in and countering them at our own pace. Most away teams now should know that is our game plan, but for some reason we find a really good mix of creating the game, giving the opponent a little bit of the game, luring them in and countering them. It’s something we’ve learned over the past two years, and we’ve done a very good job maintaining that.”

The people of Hannover (with a population of approximately 600,000) are passionate about their team, filling the 49,000-seat AWD-Arena whenever the gates are open. They are enthusiastic, but respectful; Cherundolo is constantly approached as he goes about his life here, and he graciously greets all those in search of an autograph, a photo or simply a quick conversation about the club.

One price of the team’s success is its notoriety: he cannot go to a restaurant or club at night without it turning into an autograph session.

On the day after a difficult loss to Hamburg, the team is in early for a regeneration session that consists of a 30-minute bike ride around the city. Players and coaches remained affable and accessible – not the first image that comes to mind for a German squad. A Studio 90 videographer rides alongside the group to film, while the reserves wander out to the training ground adjacent to the stadium where any fan or member of the media is welcome to observe. It almost feels … relaxed.

“One thing that has been really good about this group for the past two years is that we are able to stick together and put things behind us,” Cherundolo said. “There are no stars on the team. When we play as a group, we can beat anybody. There’s a really good atmosphere around the team, and that’s been a huge part of the results we’ve had.”

If that sounds a lot like the description you often hear about the U.S. National Team, it doesn’t come as a surprise. Cherundolo recognizes the similarity, and he has tried to contribute to that environment as captain.

“I recognize that it’s my responsibility at this point to be a leader,” Cherundolo said. “I’ve had so many good experiences at the club, everything from getting promoted to the Bundesliga to fighting off relegation, and now being a part of years when we have really competed well and achieved some good things. We have such a great fan base here, and you understand how much that means to them. I’m very happy that I have stayed here my whole career up to this point, and I would love to end it here.”

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