CHICAGO (Monday, April 22, 2002) - Following are quotes from select MLS Players named to the U.S. National Team's 23-man roster for the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan this summer. A total of 12 players from nine MLS teams were selected by U.S. head coach Bruce Arena.
CLINT MATHIS, MetroStars forward
On reaching this point after the knee injury he suffered last season: "I'm very honored to be able to represent my country in an event like the World Cup. It's been a long road especially since almost a year ago I tore my ACL. It gave me plenty of time to get back. Bruce (Arena) and Dave (Sarachan) gave me a chance to get back through the Gold Cup when I hadn't played in a game. That gave me the confidence to know I can get back and play at this level. In these last U.S. National Team games, things turned right in my direction. In the end I'm excited to be part of this World Cup roster. Hopefully we can go there (Korea/Japan) and have a good showing.
"I think playing this past year helped my chances to make the World Cup team but I don't ever count my chickens before they're hatched. I had to hear it out of Bruce's mouth first. It's a dream come true. After what happened with my ACL injury I couldn't have written a better storybook. I'd like to keep writing this book and help my team do well in the World Cup."
JEFF AGOOS, San Jose Earthquakes defender
Looking back at his road to the World Cup: "This is quite a bit different this time around. For me this really isn't the culmination of four or eight years, this is is a culmination of 14 for me. While 1998 was a disappointing time for us during the World Cup, we look forward to doing some special things two months from now."
On whether or not he expected to experience another World Cup after 1998: "For me, 1998 was more disappointing on a personal level more than anything from a standpoint of what I had contributed to the team during qualifying. I played in almost every qualifying game and was among the top one or two players in terms of minutes played and then I didn't play in France.
"At that time I didn't know what my future was going to be. When I was deciding whether or not to continue with my international soccer career I was thinking primarily about who was going to be running the program. Then, Bruce was hired on and I knew that he was a good fit and I felt really good about the direction of U.S. Soccer."
On playing a key role with the U.S. defensive alignment: "There is no one key guy to this team, I think it is going to take anywhere from 11 to 18 or 20 players to be successful at the World Cup. I don't think we are going to totally rely on me or Claudio (Reyna) or one or two other players. We've got to train and prepare as though we're going to be the underdogs for every game."
On how Bruce Arena has prepared the team: "Any time you have a group of elite athletes together, there obviously is going to be problems on and off the field. Bruce does a great job of managing that and what you see with the selections he has made is a very good team with great chemistry. I learned last year with San Jose that you may not be the best players on an individual basis when you match up with other teams, but you can overcome a lot of obstacles by being a better 'team' than the players you are facing on the other side of the ball."
On what the team must do to reach its peak when the World Cup starts: "I think the players coming from Europe and the players from MLS have a pretty good foundation as far as where they are with their soccer. I see the next month as being useful for making small minor adjustments."
On what the team is most concerned with improving defensively: "As a team you don't defend with three or four guys. If you are successful in defending it takes eight or nine players to defend well or poorly. To blame it on a few players is a little unfair. The same is true when we play well - the whole team deserves credit. We're not going to be a team that beats other teams 5-4 or 4-3, we're a team that will beat people 1-0 or 2-1."
CHRIS ARMAS, Chicago Fire midfielder
Looking back at his road to the World Cup: "My first foot in the door was the end of 1998 (Nov. 6 vs. Australia) and that's when I got my first cap. That's when Bruce (Arena) took over and brought me aboard. Through the beginning of 1999, that's when I began thinking this could turn into something in four years."
On preparing to be physically ready for the World Cup: "The national team staff will get all the guys ready to go and peak for the World Cup. There will be some good training early on in May with some good games (vs. Uruguay, Jamaica and Holland). Then I imagine it will taper off so that everyone has their legs and is fresh physically and mentally."
On the morale of the World Cup team: "The morale is fine. The loss against Ireland does not hurt the team. It gave us things we can learn from so we can sort out some kinks. That's what those games are for - to learn how to manage those tight situations which is how it's going to be at the World Cup. The team morale is fine and the excitement is there."
On what has made him a national team staple: "I think he (Bruce Arena) appreciates the work ethic I bring to the middle of the field, winning balls, disrupting plays for the other team and anchoring the midfield - being a good support and helping defensively."
EDDIE POPE, D.C. United defender
On how the qualifying process was different from 1998: "I missed one or two qualifying games because of injury. I got lucky because a lot of those injuries were not around those games. As far as qualifying went, I think both times were extremely similar. Both teams did well in qualifying. Looking at this team, we had a little bit of a stumble along the way, but we were able bounce back from that and finish successfully"
On how the experience of qualifying is different from actually playing in the World Cup: "Obviously in qualifying, there are guys trying to make the team, as opposed to a selected team in the World Cup. Guys behave differently once they make the team, they relax a little bit. The competition is certainly better in the World Cup. We will have to play better than in qualifying. The teams we are playing are going to be better than in qualifying."
On how he's matured as a player since his last World Cup in 1998: "I would like to think that I am a more experienced player, smarter player, stronger and faster. I have a better knowledge of the game. Once I was in the World Cup, I don't think it is something that you can get used to. Hopefully some of the shock value wears off. Hopefully we won't be as bright-eyed as last time."
On his first invitation to join the U.S. National Team in 1996: "When I joined the national team back in 1996, I left North Carolina to do so. I was pretty much told by Steve Sampson to take advantage of this opportunity. He wasn't sure that another one would come along. At that time, I didn't know either. I had been going back and forth to school during my first season with D.C. United trying to finish up. At that time, I had an opportunity that I had to take advantage of.
"I realized at that time that I didn't know what would come along four years later. I may have gotten another opportunity if I would have stayed in college. But I can say that I am lucky to have been able to play back then and while continuing my education."
On how this U.S. Team will be better prepared than the team that went to France in 1998: "Our team spirit is better. I think that makes all the difference from 1998 to now. That was a big issue for us. I think we had a team that was capable of doing some things. But overall, our team chemistry was not there. That is such a major part.
"I think our skill level is higher also. We have the League, it's older, the players are older. As far as the League is concerned, we have more professional experience this year. We learn from our experiences and hopefully we will be able to learn from the team that went to France and move on to better things."
JOSH WOLFF, Chicago Fire forward
On being on the bubble: "I think any game you play is a good opportunity to assert yourself as a forward on this team. Having to come back from the injury was the biggest thing hindering me. Once I came back from that and Bruce was able to see that I was able to play, it was just a matter of getting game sharp. For me, being with the team was always within reach. It was just a matter of him selecting me. I played pretty well in the last few games for the national team and that certainly helped my chances."
On his national team progression from youth team to World Cup team: "The Olympics propelled me on to the National team and proved to Bruce I can play at this level. It all comes down to proving yourself on the field and I think I've done that. Some games are tougher than others but I look forward to playing in the World Cup and looking forward to help our team get to the second round."
On his dreams of playing in the World Cup: "The enthusiasm and passion that a World Cup generates is an amazing thing. I was able to go to a World Cup game in the United States and more than anything I think that first ignited a special fire and desire to get there. I was out in Los Angeles with the Under-18 U.S. National Team when the U.S. beat Colombia (at the 1994 World Cup). To witness that was special. To be a part of it now is even more amazing. Hopefully we can do some of the things they did."
On the U.S. chances at advancing to the second round: "I absolutely think we can. This team has proven it can score goals. It's just a matter of whether or not we can get a result when we have the chance. I think if we can fight our way through the first round and get to the second round, we have players who can change games and win games. If we get to the second round, there are a lot of strong things that can be said about our team. Getting to the second round is the first thing. From there, anything can happen."
On winning a starting spot on the U.S. team: "There are three games (Nike Road to Korea) and if I can do well and catch fire, I can make a claim for myself for starting. I go in with the idea that just to be part of the team and help the team get results is the most important thing. Everything else will go from there."
DaMARCUS BEASLEY, Chicago Fire midfielder
On being on the bubble for a few weeks: "I tried not to look too much into what all the media was saying as to whether I was on the team or not. I was just trying to stay level-headed and just play. I thought the last couple of games I did pretty well. Bruce (Arena) and Dave (Sarachan) saw that and are taking a chance on me. I'm excited, happy and anxious to get to the World Cup."
On being one of the youngest and least experienced members of the squad: "I have nine caps and I only played one game in qualifying - after we had already qualified (at Trinidad & Tobago in Nov. 2001). But all the games I did play I played well. I tried to go out there and play the best I can to contribute by crossing, scoring or doing my part defensively. I know I'm young and probably have the fewest caps on the team but I know I can use my skills to help out the team."
On what Arena appreciates about his game: "I think he knows I can play both sides of the ball. I get back and I run up and down the field both offensively and defensively. I'm a good passer of the ball and I can get hit a good cross and score a goal here and there. Plus I have speed on the outside and when guys are tired I can go out and run the opposition down a little bit."
On the U.S. chances at the World Cup: "I think we have as good a chance as anybody. Portugal is going to be a great challenge but I think with the players on our team, we can counterattack and create chances as well. We lost the games in Europe but it doesn't matter until the World Cup. The fact we lost is disappointing. But we have a month to figure it out and get more organized."
CARLOS LLAMOSA, New England Revolution defender
On potentially not making the final cut: "I never feared not making the final cut. The only thing I did fear was not getting the chance to play prior to the World Cup to demonstrate what I can bring to the team.
"The injury I suffered forced me to be out eight weeks rather than the four weeks I anticipated. I missed the Gold Cup and a lot of games."
On his relationship with Bruce Arena: "I have a great relationship with him. He talks well to the players and gets the best out of them. He is good at identifying the best possible positions for players. A player may feel he is best as flank attacker but Bruce may persuade him to change position and his role on the team. He is usually right."
On making the jump from a janitor at the World Trade Center in 1990 to playing in the World Cup: "Back then I did not think I would play professional soccer at all. There was no MLS back in 1991 (when I arrived to the U.S.). When MLS was formed then I thought: 'Why not?' I can play in this league. I have the abilities to make it. Then I was fortunate to play in D.C. United. But even then it did not cross my mind that I would one day play for the U.S. and certainly not in a World Cup. I was not a U.S. citizen then."
On representing the Latino population of the United States: "I feel happy. I feel proud that things have been going well. As a Latino I am a sort of a representative of this large community living in the United States. Before me players like Tab Ramos, Marcelo Balboa, Hugo Perez and Claudio (Reyna) have played and contributed to the national team. I am glad to continue this legacy and look forward to continuing to do my best to represent well the Latino community on and off the field. I have dual citizenship and I am proud to represent the United States as a Colombian-born citizen and player. Colombians support me and my work with the U.S. national team everywhere I go."