US Soccer Conference Call Transcript: Bob Bradley and Sunil Gulati Discuss the World Cup Draw
Following the FIFA World Cup Draw, U.S. Men's National Team head coach Bob Bradley and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati spoke with the media from via conference call from Cape Town, South Africa.
Dec. 4, 2009
U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach BOB BRADLEY
© John Dorton/U.S. Soccer
On his initial reaction to the draw:
“Obviously it was an exciting day here. The opportunity to play England is really very exciting. Opening the World Cup with that type of game, a game I think will just bring on tremendous interest in the United States, will be special for our fans. From the little that I’ve heard from our players who have been getting text messages and things, and you can really tell already that this is a match that has them very excited.
“As far as Algeria and Slovenia, they’re not big name teams but both did very well to qualify for the World Cup. We were very aware of Algeria’s stretch of games at the end, especially when they were playing Egypt. Zak Abdel (U.S. goalkeeper coach and native of Egypt) was of course right on top of those games. Algeria deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the way they came through it. I was very impressed with the playoff series that Slovenia had against Russia as well. Of course there are no easy games in a World Cup, but it’s a fair group, one that gives us an opportunity to do things the right way and find a way to advance.”
On what the keys to advancing to the second round will be:
“It takes a good, solid set of games. The first round is about three games and understanding how to deal with each one by preparing for each opponent. The fact that all three games are in the Johannesburg area helps, given our experiences last summer at the Confederations Cup. We know those stadiums, we’re familiar with the altitude, and we had planned that our base camp was going to be in the Pretoria area. So I think there are things that we took from the Confederations Cup that we can apply, and from there it’s a matter of preparing properly and making sure that we’re ready for every game.”
On the connection between American and English soccer:
“I think the main thing is just that the Premiership is a league that everybody follows, we’re fortunate that we’ve had some players play there. Obviously Timmy’s done so well, Clint’s having a super year, and Jonathan Spector, so they’ll know a little bit about our players. We had the match in Wembley. I think that was earlier in our growing period, but it’s a match that we can still look back on in terms of things we’ve learned. We can apply all those things and make sure that now on the big stage we’re ready to go after a big opportunity.”
On Group G and how fortunate the U.S. is to not be in with Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire and Portugal:
“That’s obviously a very tough group. I think with the focus on this being the first World Cup played in Africa, everyone’s looking and thinking of the possibility of African teams being successful and certainly Ivory Coast is one that many people, myself included, think have a tremendous chance to do well. We all see the kind of form that Drogba is in as of late, it’s a very talented team and that group is truly competitive.”
On the challenge favored teams have to start out well in the first game:
“Well, World Cup history shows that you have a period to prepare. But you have players coming out of club seasons—some have had good years, some have had not great years, the season ends a lot of different ways. And then all of a sudden there’s some preparation and the World Cup starts. If a big team doesn’t get off to a good start, then it can really bring on extra pressure, with the media and the response. I think the big teams do feel that pressure, and that’s the reason that sometimes in those first games you see teams playing cautiously, you see all sorts of things. Nonetheless, our focal point is going to be on the opportunity that we have and the excitement of playing against a big team like England right off the bat.”
On the physical and athletic strengths of the U.S. and how that playing style might work against them at altitude:
“I think the lessons from the Confederations Cup run across the board. When Carlos mentions running out of gas, honestly I think it was not the altitude or anything else, it was a game where we put a lot into it and in the end, when Brazil pushed hard in the second half, we couldn’t find that right mix of moving the ball, passing the ball to hold them off. We certainly let them back into the game and allowed them momentum when their first goal came so early in the half. We’re always a team that tries to find a balance in the way we play, we feel that we’ve had many games where our passing is good and when we are able to move the ball and create opportunities that way. When you play against the biggest teams, the battle lines are drawn because when they get the ball it’s hard to get it back. Obviously it’s rare that if you play against a team like Spain that possession is going to be 50/50. But it’s not that we’re, in our own way, not trying to push the ball around and keep it moving. We’ve tried to see the whole picture of what it takes to play in these kinds of games, I think we’ve improved in all areas and we’ve done everything we could in this four-year cycle to test ourselves against the big teams and I think that will pay off.”
On the details of the U.S. base camp and how accommodating it is to the match venues:
“We are very happy with the way it worked out. Stadiums that we’ve played in, and areas that we’re familiar with. We will be staying at altitude, and final arrangements will be made over the next few days.”
On the opportunity to play on Matchday 2 of the World Cup, as opposed to being one of the last teams to take the field:
“I think it works well. We’ll plan accordingly in terms of the number of days we’ll be in South Africa before the first game, that will be based upon the time we think we’ll need to adjust to the altitude. The World Cup will begin like any World Cup, [with hosts] South Africa playing in the first game. All eyes on the second day are going to be on our game with England.”
On any potential games scheduled before the tournament:
“We are still working on the possibility of a match in February; we knew all along that the only fixture date was March 3..We certainly feel that, especially in the past year, that we’ve had many opportunities to be together and the foundation I think is strong. We’ve talked to the players about how next year will work, and the need when we come together in May to get right back to it. So it’s something that we’ve known about all along, and I think we’ll put a good schedule together to handle it.”
On the amount of time the U.S. is planning to spend in camp in January:
“January is still being discussed, but again the reminder I would make is that January is really a different kind of camp. It’s a camp that, as everyone knows, is comprised mainly of MLS players and a few players from Scandanavia. It’s an opportunity to look at some players that I think showed something this past season in MLS. We take it seriously, because you get good information in January, but as far as some of the other details with the nucleus of players that we would expect to bring to South Africa, that will not happen in January and would allow only the single fixture day in March.”
On his feelings of the team’s performance in their May 2008 game against England, a 2-0 loss:
“It was a game where early on the tempo was fast, I felt that we were working our way into the game and the first goal came when John Terry scored on a set piece. When we got into the second half I didn’t think our response was great, and again, when you play those type of games against a full English team and test yourself, you get a sense about the tempo, about the individual duels and battles for balls, the ability when the game goes fast and the other team is really coming after you to still connect and put plays together and create chances. It was a game where we felt disappointed at the end of the game. We were very excited. Earlier that year we had a good result in Poland and we certainly knew that the England game was going to be harder, but I don’t think the transition from the end of the season into that game was as good as any of us would have liked. So that’s the main memory.
“Now I do think a lot has transpired since then. I think the group has continued to grow. 2009 was a busy year with many challenges, of course the Confederations Cup and the final round of qualifying, but I think all these things have made us a stronger, better team and now we’ll have the opportunity to play England again, something that I think we’re all pretty excited about.”
On what expectations the team has for the World Cup:
“Our thought process in these tournaments is always the same, which is that the first round is three games. You take them one at a time, but nonetheless how can you advance, what does it take to advance and move onto the knockout phase? So we always have talked in those terms, and we’ll use that same logic as we prepare for next year. At the end of it all, to give yourself a chance you need to advance and be ready for the knockout phase. You know there can be different twists along the way but nonetheless you have to be ready for all of them and find a way to move on, and then see how far you can go and that will be our mentality.”
On the challenge of scouting Algeria and Slovenia, two teams whose players you don’t get to see on a regular basis with major club teams:
“Yes, there are different types of challenges. We watched the end of qualifying in Africa very closely. We’re familiar with where some of the Algerian players play. (Karim) Matmour plays at Borussia Mönchengladbach with Michael so I see him play quite often. They’re not exactly the same team as Egypt, but we have the experience of playing Egypt last year.
“Slovenia I thought played very well against Russia and the group that they were in has familiar opponents for us. Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia. They have some players also in Germany, and you put all these different things together and you make sure that you cover every detail as you get closer.”
On the challenge of dealing with injuries to key players:
“We’re always trying to build our team in different ways. If we think back to last summer, Charlie was a player that I had seen play in April with Hammarby and felt that it was the right time to get him in with us for an extended period of time. I talked to him when he first came in about the thought that he would be with us not only for the Confederations Cup but possibly all of the Gold Cup and it was during that time period, specifically in the Confederations Cup, that we started to see that progress. And of course we’re all disappointed that at the moment he’s injured, but that type of thinking always continues with different players. We’ve done different things along the way—in the Confederations Cup, when we would make a move later in the game, Clint Dempsey would move up front. He’s played for Fulham, in recent weeks, a little bit more up front. So you try to keep open all the different possibilities, hope that obviously that injured players have the possibility to come back.
“The same is true with Gooch. The timeframe that you can probably put down on paper for an injury like his is probably easier to know where he’ll be a month from now, two months from now, three months from now. In the meantime, we look for different ways to build the depth there. Carlos Bocanegra has played this year both as a left back and as a center back. We had a good opportunity in Confederations Cup to see Jay DeMerit play in important games and he did well. We’re optimistic that his recovery is going well and we’ll see him back on the field with Watford shortly. We played two games recently and it was a chance to play Jonathan Spector in the center in the back. So there’s always different thoughts that go into building a team, and injuries force your hand a little bit more to ensure that there are different options available.”
On the planned opponent for January and whether it will be based on World Cup opponents’ styles of play:
“That is probably less significant for the January game, for reasons that I touched on earlier, the make up of the camp. A lot will happen over the next few days here with different discussions, so I would think that we’ll have some information on the opponent in January shortly.”
On the advantage gained from being in South Africa last summer and playing England first, while they might still be adapting to the country:
“It’s never easy to know if you want to play those teams first or last or whatever. As far as things that we learned at Confederations Cup, those are things that I think on the inside will help us. We feel good again about everything from the stadiums to the altitude, but we know that England will go to great lengths to cover all those bases. So when the spotlight comes on for a big game like that, at the end of the day I don’t think those are the factors that will determine things. It will come down to, as always in a big game, which team can do a better job of putting the other team on its terms. Certainly when advantages are gained in the game, which team is better at taking advantage of those moments and executing, creating chances. I mentioned when we played in Wembley the first goal that England scored was on a set piece, set pieces in these games become so important. So I think we feel good about the experiences gained in the Confederations Cup, but I don’t see that as being a specific advantage that will hold over on the field.”
On your emotional reaction to the results of the draw:
“I think the word I’ve used the most often today is "fair." It’s a very fair group. It gives us an opportunity to play well and to advance. We don’t take any opponent lightly and these are big games. You just have to look at Slovenia knocking off a great team like Russia in the playoffs and you know that. So there’s so much happening in the room, and afterwards you get asked questions in every way possible, and again for me most of all it’s the feeling that we have a really good opportunity now and one that we’re excited about and one that we want to take advantage of.”
U.S. Soccer President SUNIL GULATI
On his thoughts on the draw today:
“Obviously it’s been an extraordinary day, both for U.S. Soccer and the World Cup. Bob’s covered the draw and I couldn’t add anything to that. The morning of today we had our opening presentation on the World Cup Bid for 2018/2022, which is unique in that FIFA’s got 10 countries bidding, more interest in that than they’ve ever had. So really quite an exciting day all around, highlighted by as Bob mentioned a game that, for a lot of different reasons, has many of interesting storylines."