U.S. Men's National Team Manager Bruce Arena
A selection of quotes from a Wednesday conference call with Bruce Arena and the media previewing the USA's World Cup qualifying match against Costa Rice on Saturday in Salt Lake City, Utah. To hear the entire conference call as a podcast, click here.
"We are looking forward to the game on Saturday. It is obviously a big game for both teams and we are positioned fairly close to each other in the standings right now, with the U.S. sitting at six points and Costa Rica on four. So therefore it is a very important game, and we know the significance of trying to win at home, so that certainly is going to be our objective. We are now in week two with our team in training, and we obviously had additions this week and some players coming off of injuries from last week. The additions are going to be a plus for us and hopefully the extra week of training is going to mean something when we step on the field on Saturday.”
"Our opponent on Saturday is traditionally one of the top three teams in CONCACAF. I have the greatest respect for their new coach (Alexandre Guimaraes). It became very clear in his last go-around that he is a proven winner. He did a great job in qualifying Costa Rica and they were a little unlucky not to qualify out of their group at the last World Cup. So we know they are a very formidable opponent. Obviously with a new coach coming in for his first qualifying game, the team they place on the field will be a little unpredictable. However, I believe he will fall back on some trends we saw in 2000 and hopefully that will help us a little bit. He has brought in some new players than the previous coach, and we got to see his line-up against Norway. Again, this is a team that we are not going to be that comfortable predicting how they are going to play or who they are going to play. So it is going to be a very challenging game."
On whether there will be any surprises or anything different in his starting line-up on Saturday:
"It will certainly be different from the game against England, and it will certainly be different from the line-up against Guatemala and Mexico, because of the fact we have some players out due to injuries and other things. So certainly, it will be a little bit different. I have not (chosen) our 11 at this time, but certainly there are going to be differences from Mexico and Guatemala, as well as England."
On playing in another new venue in Salt Lake City and going for a pro-American atmosphere:
"In all the years I've done this, I don't recall too many games in which we've had a real, real home-field advantage. So if that is the case on Saturday, it would be great, because I think we are going to need an edge."
"I think it is great. We are down in Provo right now, so we haven't been to Salt Lake City yet, but from all I understand it is a great setting to play. The field will be much improved from this week's MLS game, so hopefully everything falls into place and it becomes a real advantage for the U.S. team."
On Costa Rica and how they have changed since our last meeting in 2001:
"They have changed a lot from 2001 and the 2002 World Cup, and that is probably due to the fact, that they have had a number of different coaches since then. And once again, they bring the old coach (here) so therefore I think they have maybe gone full circle and kind of resemble the team we saw in 2001 and in the 2002 World Cup. I think one of the key figures for the Costa Ricans will be (Paulo) Wanchope. He is an outstanding striker. We may see a little more of (Ronald) Gomez with the new coach back in there. … We see a team that likes to line-up in either a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3. Familiar faces in the back with captain (Luis) Marin, Mauricio Wright as well, we anticipate playing. Gilberto Martinez from the last time around. They will have different central midfielders, (Walter) Centeno is suspended for this game and he is probably their best central midfielder. Last time around Wilmar Lopez was a big part of their team and he is no longer part of the national team, and a player by the name of (Jafet) Soto probably plays his role this time around. With the old coach coming back in, I think we might see a lot of familiar faces. Also, we might see Harold Wallace and (Jervis) Drummond, players we are familiar with from the last time around."
On the change of coaches with Costa Rica and how much it matters when national teams change their coaches a lot:
"Well, to protect my job security, I'm going to say that is does matter if you change coaches a lot. But the truth of the matter is I think in the last round Mexico was in a lot of trouble and made a coaching change for the U.S. game in July of 2001 and it was a change that went for the positive. Sometimes it is a plus and sometimes it is a negative. In this case, I think it is going to be a positive for Costa Rica because they bring in a very experienced coach who has been through this process before and is very familiar with the player pool. I also think it is going to be the same thing for Trinidad, who brought in a new manager, as well. I think in the case of Costa Rica, this is going to be a positive because they have a very experienced coach, and he replaces a coach who probably demonstrated that he wasn't as familiar with the pool of players and probably didn't position them the right way and that is part of the reason they haven't been tremendously successful. I think Costa Rica actually made a smart move in bringing back Alexandre (Guimaraes)."
On what capacity he is expecting to have DaMarcus Beasley and Eddie Johnson and John O'Brien available for Saturday's game:
"Well first of all, all three have been training this week, on and off, not in every activity, but back on the field. They are all question marks for Saturday. I think John O'Brien is most likely not going to be part of the game on Saturday, because he has been away too long. We just got him back on the field a couple of days ago and that would be expecting too much. John was brought in to the England game and these qualifying games with the hope that if he could start off on the right foot he may be able to help us at some point, but having lost last week in training, it has been pretty difficult. He looks like the same John O'Brien. He is obviously a very good player and very technical on the ball, however his match fitness and just his simple comfort in games isn't there yet, and he is going to need some time. I'm hopeful that each and every day he gets a little bit better, and he has been, and there is a chance he could help us against Panama, but is more likely he would help us in the Gold Cup. Eddie Johnson is day-to-day, and so is DaMarcus (Beasley)."
On what has helped him be as successful as he's been as a head coach at the international level:
"That is hard for me to do. I would say through experiences I have been able to be very flexible and what I try to do is put teams on the field in each and every game in positions where they can be successful. Not necessarily the individuals, but the team itself. To try to put guys on the field that are comfortable in where they are playing, allowing them to play in their strength and not their weaknesses, and making decisions that in the end are in the best interest of the team. And also taking as aggressive a posture as possible. When you are coaching a national team and your roster changes from game to game, it doesn't always look the same. The one thing I've been able to do as a national team manager is be flexible with the players we have available and also make the kind of adjustments we think make sense for the opponent we are playing. Overall I think we have been very successful in using that strategy."
On the devlopment of Clint Dempsey:
"In all fairness to Clint, he is in about his 16th or 17th month being a professional soccer player. Therefore he is still a little bit inexperienced. We saw last year in MLS he obviously had an excellent season and was rookie of the year, and this year he has started off great. He is a player with a lot of ability and a lot of talent, and as he gets more exposure to the international game he is only going to get better for the national team as well as MLS. I think the fact that he has been in the game for a relatively short period of time, he hasn't arrived yet. I think in another year we will see a much better player than we see today, and he learns a lot everyday on the field with our group and he certainly learned a heck of a lot on Saturday against England. Again, I think he has great potential. He is a guy that wants to be a good player and he is going to get there. I think however that we do have to be a little patient because this is still relatively new to Clint: soccer at the international level. But I'm optimistic that he is really going to get better and better each and every game."
On talk of the "gap shrinking" between U.S. Soccer and the rest of the world, and the team's attitude entering qualifying this year compared to past years:
"I think the gap is shrinking, but is still pretty big. There is a long way to go. I think when you see the game this past Saturday with England and you see the difference between their domestic players and our domestic players, there is a big gap. Ultimately, the U.S. will win a World Cup if we have a first division professional league that is comparable to the Premiership. It is critical to a national team, and there are very few exceptions, and some of the exceptions are Brazil and Argentina, that your domestic league must be very strong to develop a great base of players if your aspirations are to win a World Cup. So, yes, the gap is closing, but we still have a long way to go. I think we saw some of that when we played England on Saturday.”
(on the team’s attitude) “I think maybe we are little more optimistic, maybe a little more confident, and I spoke to our team about this today, but nothing is different from the last time around. It is still a scramble. Probably most of the automatic qualification spots are going to be decided on the last day. Each and every team is capable of winning games on Saturday and Wednesday of this week, and after game five we will have a better feel for where everybody stands. This is a very difficult process and I really believe that this time around is going to look exactly like it did last time around. We are going to experience lots of ups and downs, and we need to realize that and we have to be prepared for that.”
On why Eddie Johnson has been so successful with the U.S. in the past year:
"One reason is that he is a very talented forward and has a good nose for the goal and finishes his chances extremely well. We have a number of players who have gotten opportunities in the past and have had the same kinds of looks on goal and not finished off and not made a name for themselves and not made a difference for the team. So Eddie has taken advantage of his opportunities. I think Eddie can also attribute a lot of his success to his teammates. He has been put in pretty good positions since he has broken in with the national team and he has taken advantage of it. He is a phenomenal athlete. Speed is something you can't coach and that does make a difference for our team and puts him in some pretty good positions. We understand the strengths he brings to our team and he has taken advantage of it."