Bruce Arena, Eddie Pope and Chris Armas Preview Week of Big Games Ahead for the U.S. Men
BRUCE ARENA, U.S. Men's National Team head coach
Opening Comments on USA-Mexico: "Naturally we are very excited about the opportunity to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. We know it will be a difficult year, with 10 difficult matches coming up. The National Team began preparation for this game on Saturday in Ft. Lauderdale. All of our players are slowly arriving in to Ft. Lauderdale, and by Saturday we will have our full complement of players in for the final few days of preparation. We suspect that we will be able to field one of our strongest lineups since I have been head coach when we take the field on Wednesday."
On the Mix of European-Based Players and MLS Players on the Roster: "A majority of MLS players have not been playing on a regular basis for 3 or 4 months. Our players in Europe have been playing more regularly and right now have an edge in fitness and timing and confidence. We started back on January 5 with a number of MLS players and tried to slowly bring them into sync with our European players, and I think we've accomplished that. I am simply hopeful of producing a roster that gives us the best chance to win the game against Mexico. Most MLS guys have been out of action so long it would be tough to rely on more players than we currently have in camp."
On the USA-Brazil Match on March 3 at the Rose Bowl, Three Days After USA-Mexico: "First of all, whenever and wherever you are playing Brazil is great. But our approach to the Brazil game is that we will face that game when the time comes, and that time is Thursday morning. I know that they are coming here with a fantastic roster, and our roster will most likely be more MLS dominated coming off the Mexico game. We are going to put a good team on the field, and play with a lot of enthusiasm ... It should be a great match for everyone, and will be a thrill for our players. Anytime you play against Brazil, you are playing against the best. It should be the game of the year in the L.A. market."
On Brazil's Attack-Oriented Style Under Head Coach Emerson Leao: "You're saying they are going to play with seven strikers (joking)? I would think that Brazil will be playing in their traditional formation with four in the back and four in the midfield and two strikers up top. Obviously with two very attack oriented midfielders, as well. I have a feeling that a couple of those strikers they are bringing will be on the bench at the start. Again, anytime we play Brazil it is a very important game for U.S. Soccer and our players. Whoever they play, it will be a great challenge for our players."
On the USA's Lineup and Formation for USA-Mexico: "I don't plan on talking with the press about formations or starting lineups. We want to keep that information within our team. I don't believe it is critical to have it in the press right now. We want to go about the business of preparing our team and trying to get ready for Wednesday. You don't need to be a genius to figure out our lineup and formation, and it won't look much different than anything we have done in the past. But we will be keeping that information within our team."
On Training in Florida Instead of Columbus This Week: "I don't think we need to concern ourselves with acclimating to the weather. A majority of our players are playing in weather like this in Europe right now. We want to concern ourselves with being able to train on a regular basis. We don't care what the weather is on Wednesday, but we want to be able to have some consistency in our training to be able to play Wednesday."
On the Team's Focus Entering the Final Round of World Cup Qualifying: The team is much more focused than in the semifinal round, simply because we are beginning to see light at the end of tunnel. When you begin to prepare for a World Cup it is generally three years ahead. Now we are so close we can taste it. We are better prepared mentally and better prepared physically. There is a lot of excitement, coupled with playing in Columbus, which I think will be great. The team will be very ready to play and it should be a great game."
On the Team's Recent Defensive Play: "We've played well defensively recently, giving up a couple of goals in the last two games, but for the most part playing strong for 180 minutes. And our defense has been strong the last year or two. Now the decision is who will play, and that list could include any number of players, including David Regis, Carlos Llamosa, Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos, Tony Sanneh, Gregg Berhalter. We have a good group of players to choose from. We may go with three in the back, we may go with four. That will be determined in the coming days."
On How He Sizes Up the Mexican Team: "Mexico is an outstanding team, they have been a team well-known for their attacking style of play. A big concern we have is dealing with Luis Hernandez. As you know from watching him in the MLS, he is a dangerous player who is very good in counterattacks, he's good at positioning himself in front of the goal and getting chances for himself and his teammates. Mexico is very good at set pieces, a number of goals they score are from set pieces and we are going to have to be ready to defend those. (Claudio) Suarez is one of the best defenders in the history of CONCACAF, and (Pavel) Pardo is very good in the back and is excellent at going forward. We are going to have to watch him. I expect it to be a tough game and very low-scoring."
On the Advantage or Disadvantage of Opening Qualifying with Mexico: "I think it is nice to be playing Mexico at home first, and we will have a good crowd in our favor. However, regardless of the stadium, and timing, and crowd, and weather, we will not be successful unless we step on the field and play well. It is hard to predict how opening against Mexico will impact the rest of the tournament. You have ten games in the final round, after two games you will start to see a pattern. We have to play Mexico twice, obviously, and I think that playing them first at home is best for us."
On the Final of World Cup Qualifying: "It is a long stretch of games. If you look back at the last round, after two games we had one point and after six games we were at the top of our group. A lot of things change. Playing Mexico first, I can't tell you how it will effect our group. There are three games on the first day and it will be interesting to see how it will shake out. I really believe that this time qualifying will be very different than it was in 1997. With teams 1-6 there is not much difference. In 1997, there was a big difference after the top four and then El Salvador and Canada. I don't think that gap will happen this time around. I think it will all come down to the last day."
On Whether Mexico is "In as Much Trouble as They Appear" to Be In: "I think you are accurate in saying that they are not in as much trouble as they appear to be. The loss of Blanco and Ramirez will hurt them. You can't replace those types of players easily. But in international soccer you rarely have your full team on the field. So that is not an excuse for anyone in international soccer. I think they are going to have a good team on Wednesday and are going to be tough to beat. You need to ignore the results form the last few months; they will be insignificant when the whistle blows on Wednesday."
On the Recent Improvement of Many Soccer-Playing Nations in the CONCACAF Region: "I think part of the improvement is that local federations have been putting more money into developing the sport in their country. Also key players in these countries are playing abroad: Dwight Yorke at Manchester United, David Suazo for Honduras in Italy, and Paulo Wanchope from Costa Rica in England. These countries players are better and have more well-rounded soccer experiences. So when they come back they are more well rounded and can help the team."
On Using Young Players vs. Old Players: "The emphasis here is to win now. We are going to put the players on the field who give us the best chance to win, whether it is Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley or someone with 136 caps like Cobi Jones. That is the decision I am going to make, I am not concerned with developing players for down the road. Again, the emphasis for us is qualifying for the World Cup."
On Brad Friedel's Selection to the Roster and Whether the "JOB is His to Lose": "I don't look at it as Brad's job to lose. We have three very good goalkeepers in Friedel, Keller and Meola, and, frankly, I know we can win with any of the three in goal for these games. The decision to bring in Brad is mine and I accept the responsibility. The reason we brought in Brad, is because Kasey Keller is required to play a game in Madrid on Sunday, and would have arrived late into Columbus. I am more comfortable having our goalkeeper in camp all week, which is an important factor in preparation. And having a goalkeeper coming in late could create a problem with injuries or travel or having him arrive late. Brad has played very well the last few weeks and has looked strong in camp."
On Brian McBride's Recent Form in England: "I was able to watch him train (recently while in Europe) and I think he's back to 100 percent. What he brings to the team is that he is a real forward. When he steps on the field you know he is going to give you 90 minutes. What he has done for us is he is a player we know we are going to get 90 minutes from and he scores goal. I don't know what more you can ask from him. With his dimensions, obviously he is very good in the air. He's a very good player at holding the ball and pressuring the opponent and he is able to keep enough balls alive to move forward into the attacking end of the field. He is invaluable."
On What Type of Player He Sees as a Good Partner for Brian McBride Up Front: "Someone who can score goals (joking). Brian is a more central player and target player, so it is good to pair him up with a player that is a little more mobile ... a player capable of scoring goals and moving forward."
On Ante Razov's Play in Spain: "Dave Sarachan visited him recently in Europe. In the Spanish second division, the competition is around the level of MLS. Maybe Ante's team wouldn't be in the top level of MLS, but they are around that level. The one nice part of Spanish soccer is that it is good soccer and the ball is on the ground and the game moves well. It is attack-oriented soccer, better than you would see in Germany or England at that level. That suits Ante's game well."
On the Development of Steve Cherundolo: "Steve is back to being close to 100 percent. I stay in contact with him on a weekly basis. He is a player I envision on being on our roster in the near future. I tried to bring him in to a camp in January and February, but his team would not release him. I didn't feel this is the time to bring him in to a World Cup qualifier. We need to get him into camp and get him into some matches and get him some experience and confidence at the international level."
On the Number of Points the U.S. Might Need to Advance to Advance to the 2002 World Cup: "I really can't answer that question. I think the minimum a team went forward with last time was 15. I think the group will be closer this time, so maybe 13 points, but I really don't know. We aren't looking at total points. After a few games we will have a better feel, but we are focused on one thing right now, and that is getting three points against Mexico on Wednesday."
On the U.S. Team's Player Pool in the Semifinal Round of Qualifying Which Included 30 Players: "Well, you would like to believe it would be a smaller group of players. One issue for us, though, is that the other five teams are mostly using domestic players, and they can control their scheduling around their domestic leagues. We don't have that luxury. We are caught between two seasons with our domestic league playing on a different calendar than Europe. The last round we had some unique issues with suspensions and injuries, and our league calendar, but yet there are four more games. I believe Costa Rica used something like 17 players in games last round. Hopefully our numbers will get narrower in this round, but I can't predict that, but it is our hope."
On the Pressure of Winning at Home: "I don't think this game has any more pressure than others. I think that every game has pressure. If any game is going to have less pressure, it is going to be game one, not game ten. Obviously, it is important to win at home, but it is not critical with this being game one. Having said that our main objective is to walk off the field with three points. Anything less than that and we will be disappointed."
On Having a Specific "National Stadium for U.S. Soccer: "The focus during this qualifying round isn't necessarily to develop a home stadium or the sport or whatever, but is related directly to giving our team the best chance to win or qualify for the World Cup. At some point in the future, that might be on our radar screen more, but we aren't really concerned with that right now. Columbus Crew Stadium is a great facility and we will utilize it to help us win. It would be nice in the future to have a home stadium or a number of home stadiums."
EDDIE POPE, U.S. Men's National Team defender
On Columbus Crew Stadium: "I think the stadium is important for the simple fact that we hope we will have a pro-American crowd. Maybe the weather will help us as well, but I think the big thing will be having pro-American crowd."
On the Effect of Playing in Front of Some Home Crowds in the Past that Were Not "Pro-American": "It is frustrating, but a lot of the guys are used to it. A lot of time we expect to have a crowd that is not pro-American, but it does help prepare us for away games."
On CONCACAF's Recent Improvement: "Obviously Trinidad & Tobago is a lot better. Honduras is going to have a good team. Mexico is always a strong team and Jamaica is always strong. Costa Rica has given us problems in the past. The level of play is definitely a lot better in the region. But we will be prepared. Obviously, we have to do well at home and winning at home is very important. Winning on the road is a bonus. Home games are the most important and getting off to a good start is extremely important to us."
On Getting Motivated to Play Against Mexico: "I don't think you have to be motivated to play Mexico. We are going to be excited to play any World Cup Qualifier. If we can stick with what we got, we will be alright. There will be tension from the start, and if we get our chances and play well defensively, we will come out okay."
On Playing Against Luis Hernandez: "With Hernandez he has a lot of experience as a forward. As a defender you have to realize he is as dangerous in the 90th minute as the first. He works extremely hard, pressures the backs, and he is a good finisher. Knowing that, you have to be extremely focused and always know where he is and what he is doing."
On Areas in Which the U.S. Can Improve: "Late in the game. We need to play for 90 minutes, not 80 or 85. Especially the away games, where if you can steal a point or win the game, that would be great. Also, we can maybe improve on finishing our one or two chances and taking a little bit of pressure off the midfield and the backs."
CHRIS ARMAS, U.S. Men's National Team midfielder
On What Areas the U.S. Team Could Improve: "If you use the last round as a measuring stick, I think we have gotten to some good spots on the road with a lead or a tie and we have given that up. It comes with experience and maturity. If we can concentrate for more than 75, 80 minutes, that is an area we need to improve.
"If you look at some of the best teams, they get only one or two chances a game and they score on them. Sometimes we can create six or seven good scoring opportunities and not come away with anything. If we can focus more on each end of the field we can come away with some better results."
On What It's Like Preparing with Constantly-Changing Lineups: "It doesn't change my preparation at all. On this team, you can interchange a few players and everyone is on the same page, the system stays the same. In my role, it is not like I have to change or adjust to anything. The talent on this team is pretty deep, you have guys on the bench, guys in camp who can step in. This hasn't been a problem for me."
On the Motivation of Playing Against Mexico: "Bruce is a great motivator, and playing against Mexico will be something he will use to motivate the players. But it doesn't take much to get the players excited for this game, or any games leading up to the World Cup. For a player this is what it is all about, knowing if you put it all together for a few games you are going to the World Cup. As we were last round, we are going to be more focused and ready for the next round."
On the Weather at Columbus Crew Stadium: "The Mexican players are used to warm weather and a lot of U.S. players are used to the cold weather. The colder the better. If that happens to be an advantage, we will take it. We are also looking forward to playing in front of a pro-American crowd at Crew Stadium."
On his Role Against Hernandez and the Mexican Attack: "He is one of the guys we have respect for on that team. In my role, if I can double-team some of the forwards and run with guys in the midfield, that would be great. Some of Hernandez's best games are the international games and the games that mean a little more. He will be doing everything to help his country, as we will. Maybe it helps that we know him a little better."
On Playing in Tight Games: "For the games we have been playing in the first round of qualifying, they have all been tight games. We had some leads we let slip away, and I hope we learned from that. The last game in Columbus it was a tight game. As the game goes on, we still have to stick to our game plan. The worst thing would be to lose, so you don't want to panic and throw everything forward. If we stay focused we will get our chances, and it is up to us to put it away. If we can stay focused and concentrate for 90 minutes I think we can get a result."