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U.S. MNT Manager Bruce Arena Post-2006 FIFA World Cup Draw Conference Call

U.S. manager BRUCE ARENA:
FIFA World Cup 2006 Draw Conference Call
Leipzig, Germany
December 9, 2005

Opening comments:
“We’re excited to learn about our opponents for the World Cup, and now the business of preparing our team begins. Obviously, we are in a group with some outstanding teams, in fact all three of them. Czech Republic, is your No. 2 ranked team in the world, Italy is the seeded team in the group, and Ghana is coming off a terrific campaign in Africa and playing in their first World Cup.  On the surface it looks like a very strong group, as was the group we played in 2002. We look forward to the challenges, and we will eagerly begin our preparations for the World Cup.”

On the strengths and weaknesses of the USA’s opponents:
“First of all, be fair to me that I received the draw a couple hours ago and I haven’t been researching, actively, the three teams. Starting with the Czech Republic: They have an outstanding goalkeeper in (Petr) Cech, who plays for Chelsea. If (Pavel) Nedved is playing, he’s one of the top midfielders in the world. (Jan) Koller, who has been injured, is an outstanding striker. So those three players in themselves are outstanding players. As a matter of fact, I believe I had Nedved on my Player of the Year ballot in 2004. Italy, obviously, has a strong goalkeeper. (Gianluigi) Buffon is one of the best in the world. (Alessandro) Nesta is one of the best centerbacks in the world. (Francesco) Totti is an outstanding attacking player. And you know the Italian team, with the experience and the number of players seeing first-team football in Italy, they have a huge stable of players. They’re going to be a team that’s going to be very difficult to play against. Ghana I don’t know a whole lot about. I know Michael Essien is an outstanding midfielder for Chelsea. We will certainly dedicate the next couple of months to getting a little bit more familiar with these opponents.”

On where the U.S. might have advantages:
“Again, I think you need to appreciate the fact that we’ve gotten this draw a couple of hours ago. I haven’t spent a whole lot of time studying all of these teams. The most important thing between now and June 12 is that we have a healthy team, a good roster and are playing well in good form. Then, when we show up on June 12 we’ll present problems to our opponents as well as they will to us. However, I don’t know what lies ahead for our teams in terms of the fitness of some players and everything else. We are simply going to concentrate on getting our team as strong as we possibly can so when we step on the field June 12 with the confidence that we can beat the Czech Republic. If we do that, there are a number of problems we can present to any team in our group.”

On whether knowing the World Cup opponents dictates who the U.S. plays friendlies against:
“No. If we get an opponent that happened to be in some way similar to these opponents, fine. All we’re trying to do is prepare our team, play good opponents and put them in good games. That’s the most important criteria as opposed to spending a lot of time and energy in trying to say that a team is similar to one of the three teams we’ll be playing in the World Cup. That is, generally, a wasted exercise.”

On the importance of having players who have made it into the second round and quarterfinals of a World Cup:
“I think that’s important because if you ever pay any attention to the so-called experts and the press in trying to predict which group is strong and which group isn’t and who the favorites are and who aren’t, it’s a futile exercise. Our experience in the last World Cup showed us simply that if we prepare our team and are ready to play, we can compete with any team in the World Cup. That’s what our preparation will be this time around and we have a lot more experience to lean on this time than we did in 2002.”

On what was going through his mind as the draw was unfolding:
“I’m not disappointed. I expected us to be drawn into a difficult group. I really didn’t want to play in Brazil’s group, and probably not in Argentina’s group and, in some ways, maybe not in Germany’s group. For the most part, those wishes were met. However, we did know that it was going to be difficult.”

On the opening game being four days into the tournament:
“That’s a plus because we need to travel the furthest – perhaps with the exception of Ghana - to get to Europe. We see two European opponents that are fairly local to Germany. We have a little bit of travel so we have a little bit more time to get settled in and help us in our final preparations.”

On how far the U.S. has advanced since 1990:
“That’s what we’re going to find out. That will be an interesting side story in this competition. I was in Italy in 1990 and I can promise you that we were not at all competitive with these countries. It will be interesting to see, this time around, how much progress we’ve made. My sense is we’ve made a lot of progress. It will be fun for me, personally, to see, because I sat in the stands in Italy and shook my head. Not to disrespect the performance of our players but it was so obvious to me at that point and time that we had a long way to go and 16 years later we get to replay these matches, so it’ll be interesting to see where we are.”

On opponents determining makeup of roster:
“We are going to concentrate on making our team as strong as possible, and not worry about who our opponents are. We have to worry about making the U.S. team as strong as possible as we enter the World Cup. That’s going to be the criteria in selecting our roster.”

On things he hoped for from the draw:
“First of all, the travel is not a factor. All we do is jump on a charter flight to go to each venue. So we are traveling one hour by plane to every venue, so that’s not an issue. Stylistically, I am eager to play an African country. We haven’t seen one in a long time. I think that will be interesting for us. Certainly, we have the two European opponents, and for the most part we are very familiar with European opponents. I can’t complain, I think it worked out fine.” 

On the order of the opponents:
“It doesn’t matter. You play three teams in group play. You need to get enough points out of that group to advance. In 2002 many people thought that Poland was going to be possibly the easiest game in our group and that’s the one we lost in the third game. None of that really matters. And they thought Portugal was the toughest game. I don’t know. You figure it out.”

On young players contributing:
“(DaMarcus) Beasley was with our team in 2002 and contributed well. He’s four years older. Hopefully, he will be a better player in the World Cup and he was a pretty good one in 2002. (Carlos) Bocanegra, if he is in our roster which is likely, this will be his first time around. Other young players, Eddie Johnson, if healthy, has an opportunity and is another young player we’ll rely on. Oguchi Onyewu is another young player. (Steve) Cherundolo, who didn’t play in the last World Cup, has loads of experience now in Europe and is another possibility. Landon Donovan at 23 years old is a veteran. We have a nucleus of young players to go along with the likes of (Kasey) Keller, (Claudio) Reyna, (Brian) McBride, (Eddie) Pope, (Eddie) Lewis, etc. I think there is a nice mixture of players that are still fairly young in their professional careers, and some veterans that are all capable of being bonded together to give us a team that I think can step on the field and get some wins.”

On whether he didn’t want to be in Group E as he saw the makeup of some of the other groups, who seem easier on paper:
“I’m probably going to have to repeat this a number of times. All this stuff on paper doesn’t mean anything because you play the game on the field and not on a piece of paper. If you really want to know, I did wish not to be drawn with Brazil. I think getting drawn with Germany is difficult. Obviously, Argentina is tough and so is England, so I can’t complain. We were not a seeded team so that means you have to play one of the seeds, which is going to be a tough opponent, and another strong team out of Europe. That’s exactly what we got. I’m actually kind of excited to be playing against an African country. I think that will be a nice challenge for our team. Is it the draw I would have written out on a piece of paper if you had asked me? No. Fair enough. It’s still a group that I think if we prepare our team properly and are ready to play, we can get out of group play.”

On the weakest part of the U.S. team:
 “I’m not sure we have a weak area. All teams in the World Cup are there, with the exception of hosts Germany, because they’ve gone through a difficult World Cup qualifying campaign. On the defensive end I think we have a stronger group of centerbacks as we ever had, so that’s not a concern this time around. If healthy, we are a team that is very solid in a number of positions. However, we can’t afford injuries to a few key players. If that happens, then the makeup of our team changes.”

On the USA’s record in Europe:
“Believe me, our last two games in Europe, we haven’t lost. We’re 1-0-1. We opened up the World Cup in 2002 against a European opponent and beat them. We have a team that’s four years older than the one in 2002. We have a number of players that have experience, not only in a World Cup but in good club competition in Europe. I don’t think it’s an issue. Beating a European team is definitely something we’re capable of doing.”

On the timeframe for roster announcement:
“I’ll be announcing a roster in April at some point. We will announce our roster ahead of the FIFA deadline.”

On which group is toughest:
“I don’t know how you do this stuff. I’m not as much of an expert as some others. How do you rate who’s tough and who isn’t? All the seeded teams are there, and then a strong nucleus of European teams joining them. On paper, obviously, a lot of people would think that having a group with Argentina and the Netherlands is a strong group. I know from experience. Even if you look at our neighbor Mexico, they’re playing Portugal, and a group with Portugal is very good. Each group has two or three teams for sure that are very good teams so I don’t know how you rank them in what order. I think it’s a pretty solid draw.”

On FIFA’s method of seeding teams:
“In all honesty, I really don’t care at this point. What I think doesn’t matter anyway, so why spend a lot of time and energy on it. What’s relevant in seeding teams in any competition in any sport is where they are at the moment, not where they are in the fabled history. If that’s the case, then all of the traditional powers will always be seeded because you’ll never be able to uproot them because of their history.”

On the Czech Rep compared to the Netherlands as far as their talent level:
“It’s possible. I think Holland is a team that could win the World Cup. They’re a tremendously talented team that probably would have been seeded if they were in the last World Cup. I’m happy not to be in a group with Argentina and Netherlands. I’m certainly happy not to be with Brazil.”

On what his staff faces heading into 2006:
“Our initial challenge is to evaluate the three countries we are competing against, and divide up scouting responsibilities among the staff as well as use of people from the outside. Secondly, we have a major task in trying to get our domestic players back in form since they are going to be sitting idle for a while because MLS has been off since the middle of November. We go into camp in January and our staff plays a key role in that. Also, identifying who are our final pool of players and alternates will be. We have a big challenge ahead not only in terms of getting our team in the right kind of form and selecting our roster, but also scouting our opponents. From the logistic point of view we are well ahead of schedule for the World Cup. We have our hotel selected, our training venue and we know exactly what we are doing right through the first round of competition – so we are in pretty good shape there.”

On whether he will attend the African Nations Cup to scout Ghana:
“Certainly the third opponent in group play is the easiest one because you do have the two World Cup games. However, we will take a look at them at some point and, we likely look at them in the African Nations Cup. We will scout Ghana in that competition as well. I will probably need to send one of my coaches because the U.S. team will be in training and playing games at that time.”

On how he thinks the U.S. players reacted to the draw:
“We’ve been qualified since September. However, we have not known who our opponents were and we’ve been somewhat unmotivated because qualifying early and not really having anything in front of us in terms of who we play in the World Cup. I think if you’re a U.S. player, this is a great challenge and, obviously, very motivating. I think they’re excited.”

On playing European opponents in Europe this time:
“There may not be a difference. I think we’re going to be playing on a rectangular soccer field just a little bit closer to home. It’s a neutral field for all of the counties, with the exception of Germany, so I don’t see any difference from the conditions in Korea. Remember, we won game and we lost one game in Korea vs. our European opponents. If we are able to do that this time, we have a good chance of qualifying for the second round.” 

On whether the U.S. still has something to prove internationally:
“We still need to earn our way into the elite soccer playing countries in the world. We haven’t arrived, we have a long way to go.”

On how he sees the U.S. compared to the other 31 teams:
"I’m optimistic that we can qualify out of the group regardless of what anyone else says. I think we’re capable of playing with any team in the world.”

On what the U.S. has to do to get there:
“Win games at World Cups. That’s the only way you can evaluate where a country is. That is the ultimate competition. It’s not friendlies, it’s not other competitions, it’s the World Cup. So, if you can put together consecutive World Cups where your team competes in a positive fashion, I think it upgrades where your team is at in the eyes and minds of many people.”

On whether having played in many World Cups since 1990 gives the U.S. any edge over Czech Republic, who hasn’t been to one since 1990:
“I don’t know if it gives us an edge over anybody but it helps our particular team. Having players get experience in the World Cup is invaluable. I think we will have a number of players on our roster that have played in one, two and, possibly, three World Cups.”

On the logistics of getting to venues:
“If we play, for example, on a Saturday, we’d fly in on Thursday and train on the game field on Friday. We will generally be in two days before the game in the evening, and then training at the stadium the day before the game. We will sleep two nights in each venue.” 

On his opinion of Ghana:
“In all fairness, I have not seen Ghana play. I know of those players (Samuel Kuffour and Stephen Appiah, who play in Italy) and they’re outstanding players. Generally, the African countries have done very well in the World Cup. We saw in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup, Senegal beat France. I would warn all opponents of African countries to beware. I think they’re going to be very competitive in this World Cup.”

On if the team performs very well and doesn’t get out of the group:
“If we play very well and still don’t advance that’s terrific, that’s a real positive. Keep in mind, two of these opponents we played in 1990,  I don’t think we left the World Cup in 1990 feeling good about our performance. I still feel that the World Cup is the ultimate challenge in team sport. Whenever you have a team that plays well in that kind of competition, you should feel good about that. We are still not Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy, etc., where we go in with the mindset that if we don’t win a World Cup we’ve fallen short of our goals. Qualifying for the World Cup was fantastic, and anything we can do that is positive in 2006 is a real plus as we continue to move forward with the sport in our country”

On attending the 1990 World Cup:
“I went to Italy as a support of the U.S. team having two of my players at the University of Virginia playing in the World Cup, Tony Meola and John Harkes. I went as a fan, brought my wife and son, and it was a fantastic opportunity. I just sat in there with everybody else, and enjoyed it. I traveled to all three U.S. games and saw a couple of other games.”

On not wanting to be in Germany’s group:
“I don’t think you ever want to play in a group with the home country. In the history of the World Cup, the home country always advances, so that means there’s only one slot open. We could have been drawn into that slot. That as well as the fact that that group plays right in the beginning of the World Cup so you have less time to prepare your team. You’re playing June 9 or June 10.”

On the lesson learned in 2002 for 2006:
“I think you can watch a World Cup from the stands or you can watch it on television, but when you experience the preparation and on the field and watch a team play and perform though a world cup you have a unique experience that very few other people have. Going into this World Cup, I have that experience, a better sense of what kind of players we need to form our team and to make us successful. I think you benefit from every experience in this game, and not that many managers have experienced a number of World Cups. However, having said that, I think if you track the managers in this World Cup, I think there is an unusually number who have coached in a World Cup. “

On this team’s ability to help grow the game in the U.S. and the chance to make people more aware of soccer in the U.S.:
“Anytime you have a good performance in a World Cup, especially in the United States, that’s positive. Regardless of whether we advance or not, our ability to demonstrate that we’re closing the gap with the powers around the world will benefit the game in the United States. However, ultimately, the national team will improve as our domestic league continues to grow. As the domestic league grows and we continue to develop players, it’s only going to help the national team.” is the official site of U.S. Soccer, the governing body of soccer in the United States.