Arena and Agoos Preview Showdown with Mexico (Sunday: 1:00 p.m. ET on Telemundo, 4:00 p.m. ET on ESPN)
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Thursday, June 28, 2001) - U.S. Men's National Team head coach Bruce Arena and veteran defender Jeff Agoos participated in a media conference call on Thursday afternoon in which they previewed Sunday's sixth match of final round qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. On Sunday, the U.S. will face Mexico, who will be looking to avenge a 2-0 loss to the United States on February 28 in the opening match of final round qualifying. The game will be televised in the U.S. at 1:00 p.m. ET on Telemundo and at 4:00 p.m. ET on ESPN.
The U.S. is 0-9-1 in ten World Cup qualifiers at Azteca Stadium (0-10-1 overall in WCQs in Mexico, including a loss in Puebla in 1976) ... Overall, the U.S. is 8-27-9 against Mexico (which includes just a 2-12-5 mark in World Cup qualifying), but the team has a current three-game winning streak over the Tri-Colores in which they have scored seven goals and allowed zero ... When Mexico was stunned on June 16 in a 2-1 loss to Costa Rica at Azteca Stadium, it marked the team's first loss at the venue in 20 years ... Overall, Mexico is now 44-1-5 heading into their 50th all-time World Cup qualifying match at home ... Since 1967, Mexico is 59-6-28 in 93 matches at the Mexico City stadium ... Mexico has lost six consecutive matches, which includes two World Cup qualifiers, three Confederation Cup matches and the team's 4-0 drubbing at England earlier this month.
In its last two appearances at Azteca, the United States has posted two of its best-ever results at the venue. On November 2, 1997, the United States held Mexico to a scoreless draw in a World Cup Qualifier despite playing shorthanded most of the match after Agoos received an early red card. On August 1, 1999, Mexico needed a golden goal to defeat the U.S. in the semifinals of the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup.
%=macroPart|font/arialBlue2=%BRUCE ARENA, U.S. Men's National Team Head Coach
On the absence of U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel from the current training camp in Florida: "I don't want to spend a whole lot of time on that. We discussed it this week. It was Brad's choice. Brad asked for time off from the team."
On what the new players, especially those from Cruz Azul, will bring to the Mexican team: "I don't know what the Cruz Azul players will bring to the team, because probably most of them will not be on the field. I would imagine we would see Valencia at some point in the game and Almozar, but I can't imagine they can expect to play too many of those players given the fact they have to play tonight in Buenos Aires and need to travel tomorrow."
On the team's mood going into the match: "Like any other match. I think we go in with confidence. We realize that our opponent has their back against the wall. We realize we have to play on the road and feel optimistic that if we play well and stick to our game plan, we have an opportunity to get some points from this match."
On missing U.S. captain Claudio Reyna due to yellow card suspension and midfielder John O'Brien due to club commitment and not having the full team for the Mexico match: "Well, we have a lot of players returning from the last match. Continuity is not an issue. If we were disappointed from losing players, we wouldn't have made it to the final round. We've missed players in every match from the semi-final round on. We've played approximately, and again my math could be wrong, we've played 11 dates so far in World Cup qualifying in the last year and we've never had the same team on the field two games in a row, so it's something that we're quite accustomed to."
On if there's any worry about how emotionally charged Mexico will be for this match, after losing in Columbus on Feb. 28 and this time playing at home: "I think any time they play at home at Azteca, they're charged up. Certainly with some fresh blood in the lineup trying to prove themselves and a new coach, they're going to have a lot of energy early in that game. There's no question about that. I think they're going to come out throwing everything they can at us."
On what he thought of U.S. defender Jeff Agoos and his soccer future when recruiting him for the University of Virginia back in the late 1980's: "[Joking] Well, I thought one day he'd play for me on the national team and have over 100 caps. But in all honesty, Jeff as a high school prospect was an outstanding player and a player very composed on the ball with an outstanding left foot and a real solid central defender. Actually, his qualities have not changed over the last 18 years or so, however long I've known him. He's proven it at every level in our country and had an outstanding run with the national team this past year."
On what his biggest strengths are as a player: "I'll be honest with you, I've been his biggest supporter, from the collegiate level to the club level at D.C. United and the national team. I just think that he's been a very good player every step of the way and continues to be an excellent passer out of the back. If you can say anything, he's certainly cut down on the mistakes he's made in the big games. He continues to defend well. I have no complaints about his game at this point."
On making any special arrangements in preparing for the altitude of Mexico City: "No, we won't have oxygen on the sidelines. I think it would be very difficult to travel with, first of all. We've played in Mexico City before. I think we'll be a little bit fortunate that the weather's not going to be real warm. They've shown highs lately in the low 80's and the last couple of days they've been in the 70's. But when you go travel in altitude, the best thing you can do is be hydrated, be very fit, and arrive in the venue as late as possible so your body doesn't get acclimated. If we tried to train our team and get acclimated to this altitude, it would take about three weeks. Obviously, we don't have three weeks to get acclimated to Mexico City, so we're going to take the other route. I think we'll be okay."
On the expectations that the U.S. should win at Mexico: "I haven't even thought of it that way. I don't know what to say. One team has won there in the last 20-some odd years, so to actually expect us to win there is a bold statement. We're certainly going to try and we think we can position ourselves to get some points in this match. Whether it's one point or three points, we think we have a chance to be successful in this match."
On his experience with Azteca: "We played there in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup in the summer of '99. That day, what we experienced as being difficult wassimply the heat and the altitude. But I think the fact that we played three games that week made it a little more difficult. But certainly, those conditions make it difficult. I think for the most part, the fans are pretty good, and it's a great venue to play in. We have no complaints there. Obviously any time you play on the road in CONCACAF, the home team has its advantages. Obviously, Mexico will have their advantages at Azteca. I think for the most part, our team has experience there and I think we'll be prepared for the game on Sunday."
On Mexico's fall from their all-time high #4 spot in the FIFA World Rankings in 1998: "To be honest with you, I haven't spent a whole lot of time worrying about the Mexican team. They're not as bad their recent record indicates. They've been a little unlucky. I think that they juggled personnel too much over the last year, have used too many players, and the changing of coaches is never easy. I think over time, they'll be back again. Whether that's Sunday or down the road, they'll be back. They've got a good professional league and they have good players. I just think that they probably didn't have the best selection of players for the national team over the last year."
On how he expects Mexico to play tactically: "Well, I think as a starting point, the game Sunday will have a refreshed attitude by the Mexican players. They'll come out with a lot of enthusiasm and play very hard. I think he (Mexico head coach Javier Aguirre) is probably going to have three or four of his players from (Mexican First Division professional team) Pachuca on the field, so they'll tend to play a little bit like Pachuca. We'll see that they'll either play with a back four or back five, and ask the outside defenders/midfielder to get forward and service balls to (Mexico forward Jared) Borgetti in the box. I think bringing (Mexico midfielder Juan Garcia) Aspe into the mix will indicate they're going to be using a little bit more of the midfield as well. He's a good player, he's a good passer and a good finisher. I think the attack is going to involve their outside backs. I think they're going to be playing a lot of balls in the box, and they're also going to look to Aspe to be a field general for them in the midfield."
On his choice in midfield with the absence of Reyna and O'Brien: "Obviously over the last three of four matches, we've played Armas, Stewart and Sanneh consistently with Reyna. This time around, the other options are going to be Jones and Kirvoski and Moore, Henderson, Klein and Williams. And I have to make a decision for that fourth or fifth spot, depending on whether we play with a four-man midfield or five-man midfield."
On if he thinks of the U.S. forwards as pairs: "We look at them individually and see who meshes better with each other and who's on top of their game at the moment. Just over the last two games, we just happened to have settled into pairs, but there's no reason to believe why we can't mix them up as well. It doesn't have to be Razov and Kirovski or McBride and Moore."
On how he plans to use U.S. midfielder Earnie Stewart in Sunday's match versus Mexico: "Obviously Earnie has played well. He had a very good goal against Trinidad & Tobago. He had a solid game against Jamaica. Every bit along the way, not only in this round but in the last round, he's played well. We know the story that he's the all-time leading goal-scorer now for U.S. Soccer in World Cup qualifiers, but we can play Earnie anywhere - as a forward, or really any of three spots in the midfield. I haven't finalized where he's going to be on Sunday, but he's going to be on the field somewhere."
On if the U.S. team will be trying to earn one point for a draw or three points for a win: "We are preparing our team to go into Mexico City and come out with either one point or three points. We don't know how the game is going to unfold on Sunday, but we're prepared either way."
On how to stay competitive from now until the 2002 World Cup: "We're not at all thinking about next year. Our only focus is on Sunday and putting the best team on the field to be successful. And then after that game Sunday, we're thinking about Honduras. I have no visions of 2002 at this point. We are not there yet. The reason we've been so successful is that in this round and the last round, we've taken it one game at a time. And that's all we're thinking about now. We're thinking about getting the best 11 we can on the field to start that game and help us be successful."
On how to scout Mexico, especially now after the coaching and roster change: "To be honest with you, we are very detailed in the scouting of our opponents. We scouted Mexico in person a couple times, and I've probably seen their last 15 or 20 games on tape. About a month ago, we thought that there could be a (coaching) change. We didn't anticipate the coaching change and then the roster change, so obviously it's a real crap shoot going into this game understanding who's going to play and how they're going to play. Certainly, one indication to me is watching tapes of Pachuca. We've seen some of their championship games and have an understanding about how that team plays and some of those players that played for Pachuca that are now on the national team roster. Additionally, I've watched Cruz Azul and Santos, and that's the nucleus of this Mexican team now. We know some of the possibilities of their players and kinda understand how they may play, but we told our team let's not even worry about it. Let's worry about our own team. Whatever Mexican team shows up on Sunday, we will be prepared accordingly."
On if he's worried that Mexico will be using an all-out, physical approach because of their need to win and earn three points: "No, I think we see that kind of approach on the road. When we played Jamaica, they needed three points to win. When we played in Honduras and that was a big game to put them towards the World Cup. We have been there before and know the attitude of our opponents and we know how to deal with it."
On how a loss to Mexico would hurt the USA in the standings: "To be on top of the group after six games would not be the worst. Coming out of this game, at the very least, we are tied going into this important seventh game against Honduras in D.C. It would not be the worst situation to be in. We are hopeful that will not be the case."
%=macroPart|font/arialBlue2=%JEFF AGOOS, U.S. Men's National Team Defender
On a perceived resurgence in his international career: "I think the big difference is that in moving from the left to the middle, there's just a lot more exposure going from one position to the other. I don't think that necessarily my play has increased or decreased dramatically from one year to the next, but I think just the exposure of where I'm playing may be the difference. That may be one of the things that maybe I'm a little more noticeable in the middle than out on the left."
On how important playing in the 2002 World Cup would be to him: "Well, it was obviously disappointing to be involved with the '94 team and not make the team, and then in '98, obviously not play. From that point of view, it was a little disappointing. You've also got to remember that I was in camp for a year and a half with (former U.S. MNT head coach) Bora (Milutinovic), and went through qualifying and a World Cup with (former U.S. MNT head coach) Steve (Sampson). So there were obviously positives that came out of it. After '98, I wasn't sure what direction I was going to go with the national team program, and things have sorta fell into place. I've know Bruce (Arena) since I was in college, and we have a good relationship. I think things are at a very comfortable point right now. Obviously, we have a little bit more work to do to qualify for the (2002) World Cup. That's the short-term goal right now. That's really where the team focus is."
On a changing of the guard between the USA and Mexico as the top team in CONCACAF: "I don't think you can ever count Mexico out. They have a long history behind them. I think it's too early to think that they've sorta fallen by the wayside. I think they'll surprise you. I think when the 10 games are over, we'd like to look at this and maybe see where we stand with not only Mexico, but the new teams that have popped up in Costa Rica and Honduras."
On the match four years ago in Azteca Stadium in which he received a red card: "I can take you back through that. I don't know why we keep going back there. That was four years ago. We're four years past that point now. A guy came in behind me and I wanted to sorta separate myself from him and swung my arm around and he basically fell to the ground. If I touched him, I barely touched him at all. That's the way things go. The referee decided it was a red card and that was that."
On what the World Cup means to him: "It's kind of like icing on the cake. It would be a bonus in anybody's career to be able to do that. Fortunately, I've had a lot of success in my professional career, and I'm thankful for that, so this is just something that's extra."
On the recent decline of the Mexican team, given their storied history: "It's surprising. They've certainly had the history of being not only very good in this region, but in the world. They've had a top ten team for a long time. I have heard reports that television stations have bought a lot of the clubs and put in high profile players from around the region. There are more Costa Rican players in the league. I'm not sure they're developing their youth players. That is where you get the next crop of national team players. I'm not sure exactly what's going on there. I haven't really studied it, but they are in a difficult period right now."
On why it's so difficult to play in Azteca Stadium: "Well, history, for one. Altitude, heat, smog, and on top of all that, you've got the Mexican team, so there are a number of factors why it is difficult. I think it's also sort of a mindset. You can make it more difficult than it has to be. If you come in with the idea that you're going to come out on the wrong end of it, then you're going to have a long day. Your mindset has to be right going into Azteca."
On what the conditions are like at Azteca during the match: "It's obviously very difficult. The heat, and playing in the middle of the day, and the smog and the altitude, all make it very difficult on your body to perform at a high level. But at this stage of the game and at this level of the game, you have to keep on pushing. It's as much mental as it is physical. You are basically thinking about the game and what is going on during the game, what the needs are and you hope your body responds to that."