When Los Angeles FC went searching for the second head coach in franchise history, general manager John Thorrington didn’t have to look far at all.
Steve Cherundolo, his friend and teammate for decades, was already in the building and eager to return this young MLS club to lofty heights.
LAFC hired Cherundolo on Monday to replace Bob Bradley, who parted ways with the club last year after leading the expansion team to four largely successful seasons.
LAFC missed the playoffs last year for the first time, and Bradley was quickly hired as Toronto FC’s coach and sporting director after the breakup. While LAFC fans floated prominent international names for the job, Thorrington replaced the second-winningest coach in league history with an MLS newcomer who spent last season working for Thorrington as the head coach of the Las Vegas Lights, LAFC’s USL affiliate.
Cherundolo has spent most of his adult life in Germany, but LAFC’s distinct fan culture has already made him feel at home back in Southern California, where he grew up.
“LAFC is an amazing organization with great fans that make me feel really at home, like I’m sitting in a European stadium,” Cherundolo told The Associated Press. “The success over the first four years speaks for itself. There is so much to build off of. I got to know this organization over the past 10 months, so I understand where we’re coming from and where we can go, and I feel fully prepared for the job.”
Cherundolo and Thorrington, both 42, are California products who moved to Europe to further their playing careers — a rare move for Americans at the time. Friends since they were teenagers, they stayed close through their parallel stints under Bradley with the U.S. national team.
“I just think he has this unique blend of international sensibility, based on his experience and his coaching education, as well as an understanding of the domestic player,” Thorrington told the AP. “That combination is not just unique, but a really valuable one that lends itself well to success in MLS.”
Cherundolo grew up in San Diego, but spent his entire professional playing career as a right back for Hannover 96. He became captain at Hannover during 15 seasons with the club, eventually earning an affectionate nickname as “The Mayor” of his adopted city.
“As a player, I don’t think Steve got the credit he deserved for what he did, because it wasn’t necessarily on people’s radar,” Thorrington said. “I think now, if you had an American who went and played hundreds of games in the Bundesliga for one club, it would be much bigger news and probably more accurately appreciated.”
Cherundolo also made 87 appearances for the U.S. as a stalwart defender. He was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame last year.
He stayed in Europe to begin his coaching career upon retirement in 2014, earning his UEFA Pro coaching license in 2020. He spent five years coaching in Hannover’s system before brief stints at Stuttgart, the U.S. national team and the German national youth teams.
Along with a German wife and two daughters, Cherundolo acquired a comprehensive football education in Germany.
“It made me very detailed-oriented and structured in the way I view the game and also coach the game, which I think are attributes to have when you’re thinking long-term,” Cherundolo said. “Obviously short-term, motivating players and competing and being a good competitor are important. That (combination), long-term, I think will make me a successful coach.”
Cherundolo took over in Las Vegas last year, but the team mostly lived and worked in Los Angeles. The Lights went 6-23-3 in his only season in charge and finished last in their conference with the league’s second-worst goal differential, yet Thorrington was obviously happy with Cherundolo’s developmental work, pointing in particular to the growth of 19-year-old Senegalese defender Mamadou Fall into an LAFC regular.
“I’ve known what it’s like to play alongside Steve, and now I’ve seen what it’s like for our players to play for him,” Thorrington said.
LAFC still has several personnel decisions to make for the upcoming season, which begins Feb. 26. Former MLS MVP Carlos Vela is under contract only until June, and his supporting cast must be finalized.
Cherundolo already spoke to Vela about their plans for the upcoming season, and he says Vela’s possible midseason departure won’t affect the next few months.
The new coach believes LAFC already has a contending-caliber roster, and he is eager to show it.
“After reviewing the last season, not a whole lot needs to change,” Cherundolo said. “This is a winning organization. This is a very well-coached group by Bob with some high-quality players. We were misfiring a little last season, but not by a whole lot.”