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Lights benefit from coach’s Hall of Fame playing career

As the halfway point of the United Soccer League season looms, it has been a mixed bag for the Lights.

The club has put together impressive performances, such as a 2-0 win over Tacoma Defiance in its home opener June 5. But the Lights also have underwhelmed, dropping their past three matches.

But Lights coach Steve Cherundolo, who will be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in October, said the season has had more ups than downs.

“We had a slow start resultswise, but progression of the group and improvement has been constant,” he said. “That’s the most important indicator when speaking about a successful or unsuccessful season.”

This is Cherundolo’s first head coaching job at the USL level after serving as an assistant with Hannover 96 in the German Bundesliga and for the U.S. national team.

His coaching career came after playing 16 seasons with Hannover 96, where he earned the title “Mayor of Hannover.” He was named to the U.S. national team roster for the 2002, 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups.

“I love the game. I loved every single minute I was able to play as a professional,” Cherundolo said. “I cherished every minute with the national team and (Hannover 96). I was very sad to retire because I loved what I did. But on the other hand, I was excited to move into the next chapter, which is now coaching.”

Cherundolo’s illustrious playing career led to his election this year into the Hall of Fame, an honor that blindsided him.

“It was live on TV at halftime of the USA and Costa Rica game,” he said. “I was extremely surprised and not expecting it at all. I was scheduled to give halftime analysis on the game, so I was elsewhere with my mind.”

Cherundolo thinks his career as a player has helped him in his young coaching career with the Lights.

“Just because you can play doesn’t mean you can coach. It’s two completely different jobs,” he said. “It took me years to figure out that they are different. There are no shortcuts in this business. The only thing being an ex-pro gives you is the benefit of the doubt in the beginning.”

Cherundolo is leading a young Lights roster that was revamped for the season. Not one player from last year’s 2-9-5 team returned. The club has doubled its win total with a 4-9-1 record and is 10th in the Western Conference after finishing 15th last season.

This is the team’s first season as an affiliate with the Los Angeles Football Club, a relationship that Cherundolo cherishes.

“I am in daily communication with the coaching staff from LAFC as well as their scouting department and management,” he said. “It’s been very productive … the resources and information that LAFC has is being put to use.”

Lights owner and general manager Brett Lashbrook said Cherundolo was known as a coach on the field as a player.

“He worked and played under Bob Bradley (LAFC coach), and we thought there would be a real synergy with this,” Lashbrook said.

The LAFC affiliation has caused the Lights’ lineup to fluctuate, with players splitting time on loan between the two clubs. Cherundolo said the players have handled the situation well and he isn’t worried about chemistry or continuity issues.

“I do think there are some difficulties for players sometimes going back and forth frequently and making changes week to week, but from my standpoint, the performance has been pretty good,” he said.

Contact RJ reporter Aidan Subira at asubira@reviewjournal.com.

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