Men's National Arrives in Columbus; Begin Training in Chilly Ohio
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Sunday, February 25, 2001) - The U.S. Men's National Team completed its first day of training in Columbus this afternoon following their arrival in Ohio last night. The team was greeted at the airport by an enthusiastic crowd of about 50 fans and several television crews, who jockeyed for position to wish their favorite players well and secure interviews, autographs and pictures. Almost every player was surprised by the turnout, and the energetic display of patriotism was well received by the appreciative squad.
After a night of rest, the team got down to business on Sunday. Head coach Bruce Arena and several players met with the media at the team hotel (selected quotes below) before the players and staff departed for the first of three consecutive closed-door training sessions. Though much of the talk among the team centered around the expected weather conditions in Ohio, Mother Nature provided a reasonably warm day for the team. Reasonably warm for Ohio in February, that is.
%=macroPart|font/arialBlue2=%Quotes from Columbus
Cobi Jones on the pressure felt before the Mexico match: "There's obviously more pressure in a game like this, but it's to be expected. As our team gets better and better there are higher expectations put on us by outside sources. And I think that's a good thing. We're at the level where people expect us to go the World Cup, and we expect to go there ourselves. Now it's time to live up to those expectations."
Bruce Arena on Mexico's missing players: "Whatever eleven players they chose to put on the field are going to be a good team. Whenever you don't have Blanco on the field the team looks different, and the same goes for Ramon Ramirez. With Blanco you have a great individual player who can take players on and break down defenses. But that's international soccer. We never have our full team on the field. I don't believe that one or two players change the game. We've played Mexico in the past without our full team and nobody ever said anything about it."
Tony Meola on the history of the rivalry between the USA and Mexico: "One of the best memories I have about the games with Mexico comes from the Gold Cup in 1991 when we beat them in the semifinals in Los Angeles, 2-0. For us, that was like the beginning of the rivalry. Mexico doesn't like losing to our team, and from that point on the games have been so close and so much fun to play in. The intensity has been incredible, and I believe that that was the true beginning of this rivalry. I know Mexico can lose to Brazil, and they can lose to Germany and Italy, but they can't lose to the United States, and that's just the way it is. When we look at the CONCACAF region, the one team we don't want to lose to is Mexico. We always want to be a step ahead of Mexico, because for so many years in CONCACAF Mexico has been the team to beat. They've been the best team, and they've set the standard in our region, and for a long time we've measured ourselves against Mexico."
Brian McBride on the chance to play before his home team crowd with the National Team: "Missing out on the Costa Rica game at Crew stadium was heartbreaking. This game makes up for it. We hope to have 90 percent of the fans behind us. Columbus has shown everybody how we can throw a big party like the all-star game and now it's time to show everybody how we can support our National Team, like we did in the qualifier against Costa Rica. The support there was great."
McBride on the importance of getting the final qualifying round off to a good start: "I think it's very important to get three points from this game, and from all the home games. That will be the key for us. That's our goal. Knocking off the perennial favorite in the region would put us in a good position to qualify for the World Cup."
McBride on the makeup of the team: "We have a good core group of players who've been playing games regularly, so we should be in good form to play well against Mexico. The MLS guys who are here have been spending time in training camp for a while and are with their club teams now in pre-season. We're ready to go."
Defender Jeff Agoos on what the USA needs to do defeat Mexico: "I think being able to win balls and counterattack will be important. Putting them on their heels from the opening whistle will be important. We've certainly had some problems in the last couple of games making that final pass, that final shot. Those things need to be a lot sharper come Wednesday night. It's important to beat Mexico at home. A win would certainly put us in the driver's seat for the rest of the games. It's not going to assure us a World Cup berth, but it will put us on the right track."
Agoos on the role the weather might play in the game on Wednesday: "As long as it's not windy we'll be fine. We think the field will be in very good condition for the game."
Clint Mathis on the USA's plan to beat Mexico: "We need to get after them from the start. This is an important game. Of course it's a World Cup qualifier, but it could set the tone for the rest of our games this qualifying year. If we can get a goal early, that will set the tempo and cut a lot of the pressure. With us being the home team, we definitely need to go at them. We can't accept anything less than winning this game. It's going to be a tough game. No matter who you play in situations like this (World Cup qualifiers), it's definitely going to be a heated situation. I don't think any team in our group is going to come out and slack off."
Mathis on the weather factor: "They (Mexico) are definitely not used to this climate, so there will be a little bit of an adjustment for them. From what we've seen the last couple of days, you just don't know what to expect from the weather. We were here yesterday and it was pretty warm, at least compared to what I thought Columbus would be like. It could be a factor Wednesday night, but both teams have to play in it and it just comes down to dealing with adversity. You have to go out there and fight through it mentally. When it all comes down to it, it's just a matter of putting 11 guys out there and being the better team."
USA captain Claudio Reyna on playing in Columbus: "I've played close to 80 games with the National Team, and I think I've played only two here in the heart of America. I've never been to Columbus, but it's nice to be here. I think it's important that the National Team play more games here in the Midwest and the middle of America where there are a lot of American fans at the games. It's an important game for us, so it'll be nice to have a supportive crowd behind us."
Reyna when asked if the cold weather would trouble Mexico: "That's kind of the plan. They have a good team made up of good players, and they are always a difficult opponent for us. It's a special game for us, because if we beat Mexico it will bring us confidence for the rest of the games. Even though they've been struggling recently, they are still one of the best teams in the region, if not the best."
Reyna when asked the U.S. keys to victory: "We need to score more goals than them (laughing). That'll help. But I think it's important that we get the fans into it, and we need to concentrate for 90 minutes. It's kind of a cliché, but it's very important against a good team like theirs. If you make one little mistake against a team like Mexico they will punish you. We also have to be aggressive and create more chances. I think we have the team and the players to do just that."
Reyna on the emotion of a World Cup qualifier: "A lot of it comes down to emotion. The commitment and attitude you show during a game evens things out, though. It's important that we match, or better, their intensity on the field. That'll say a lot about who wins the game. A lot of games are decided on who comes out with the right attitude."