CHICAGO (Wednesday, October 3, 2001) - U.S. Men's National Team head coach Bruce Arena and captain Claudio Reyna took some time out from their preparations today to talk about Sunday's World Cup Qualifier vs. Jamaica.
Bruce Arena, U.S. Men's National Team head coach
On how much the team has missed U.S. midfielder Claudio Reyna: "I can't speak on behalf of the public, but certainly the coaching staff and Claudio's teammates appreciate what he brings to us. He's obviously a very important member of our team with his fine skills on the field, but with his leadership skills on and off the field. He's an invaluable member to our team."
On how Claudio looked in training: "I think he'll be fully prepared for the game on Sunday. He wasn't 100% today, but he was pretty active in the training and moved fairly well. We can see that in a couple of days, he should be 100% percent. We're pleased with where he's at right now, and I don't expect any problems come Sunday."
On his worst fears about the match vs. Jamaica: "My worst fear is obviously that we would lose. But we feel good about the players we have in camp. I'm confident that we can put the previous games behind us and we have a team that's ready to step on the field and play hard for 90 minutes. If we can do that, we can come away with three points."
On how failure to qualifying would impact U.S. Soccer and the sport in this country: "Well, it's important for us to win this game, but that doesn't guarantee that we're in the World Cup yet. But it is important that we continue to make a showing in the World Cup every four years. To be honest with you, we haven't developed a passion for game yet in this country. In order to gain a passion, an improved passion, we need to continue to qualify for World Cup. It would not be a crisis if we did not, but if we ultimately want to be a soccer-playing country that's on par with the many other great soccer-playing countries, we need to continue to make progress. The next progress is obviously the 2002 World Cup."
On what U.S. midfielder Preki adds to the team: "He's obviously a very experienced player. In the last two games he has added to our team in the attacking part of the field. He's a good passer, and he can create chances for others. And he's a player who creates chances for himself as well, and that is something we have been lacking when we haven't had our full complement of midfield players. In the interim he has stepped up and played pretty well, and we are hopeful we can continue to use his skills in the next couple of games."
On the difference of the team's confidence from three games ago (when the team was 4-0-1): "Just in terms of our focus, I think we're much improved with it. We know that it's do-or-die for this game. We know that we need three points if we hope to be in Asia next year. In because of our focus now, it's going to improve our play. Additionally, we have players back from injuries, and I think our frame of mind is better than I saw in the last camp. In all honesty, I would say that we were a bit complacent over the last two or three games. Many players believed what they read in the papers, that we were basically in after having 13 points in 15 games. I think we stepped back a little bit. I think we lost our focus and may have lost sight of our roles on the team, and the coach did a lousy job. This week, I think we're ready to go and we're determined to play a good, strong 90 minutes of soccer on Sunday."
On U.S. captain Claudio Reyna: "He's a good player. His qualities help make other players better, and players have much more confidence when he's on the field. But as he's indicated, he's not the sole reason why we're successful. But we think he's a key part of our team and he gets everyone going."
On what result he expects from the Costa Rica-Mexico match: "Who knows? But I can tell you this: I doubt that Costa Rica's going to go on the field with a relaxed attitude. Their fans won't allow that. When they play at home, they're under a lot pf pressure to respond to the people in the stands. They're going to be under a lot of pressure to play and play well. I think that's going to be a very good game, and they're not going to make it easy on Mexico. (Costa Rica) has a heck of a lot of talent without Wanchope. Mexico would probably be content with a point in that game. They know that it could go down to the last game, playing Honduras at home. If they get four points out of their last two games, they have a chance to qualify."
On if U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller's lack of playing time with his pro club in England has affected his status as a possible starter on Sunday and in the near future: "Obviously, if (Kasey) doesn't play, it's going to hurt him. There's no question about that. I'd like to believe that whatever decision I make for the goalkeeper on Sunday and in the following game, we're going to be in position to be playing next year. Kasey can position himself with his club team over the next year to play on a regular basis. Certainly, we have one goalkeeper that will play 50 games this year with Blackburn, and the other who's a question mark with Tottenham. That is obviously a concern on my part. Kasey is an excellent goalkeeper, and I think that he will have a chance to play in the Premiership with Tottenham or somebody else in the next year or so. I'm hoping that one will resolve itself. But right now, obviously, Brad has an advantage on Kasey in that he's playing two or three games a week."
On what he expects from the Jamaica team on Sunday: "We can guess a little bit, but we are not going to waste a whole lot of time trying to figure out Jamaica. They have had a turnover of coaches and some new faces may be on the field for them on Sunday. If they have any chance to play in the next World Cup, they need to win. I think they will tend to be a little bit aggressive going forward."
On the U.S. team's defensive problems in the last two games: "I think our problems were some mental errors and our team movement. In the Honduras game, a lot of their quality chances in the second half were a result of our throw-ins, which is highly unusual. And our decisions by our back line to step or drop and having them move together. The issues of defense were not solely the responsibility of our back four. Our midfield wasn't in good spots to help. And we've talked about moving better as a team, and if we can do that we will be tough to crack. We've lost our team shape over the last couple of games, we've made some bad mistakes and we've also been called for two penalty kicks that have resulted in two goals. We need to correct some of those mistakes and we have discussed it with our players."
On a lack of attacking players developing in the MLS and where the next great one will come from: "I don't know where he is going to come from. MLS has a couple of problems. Not only are the foreign players playing in many the midfield positions, but the forward positions as well. And the green card rule is going to be a big issue down the road. There are problems there, but at the same time, there are young players who are being given the opportunities to emerge as players. Examples of that over the last couple years, there have been Josh Wolff, Clint Mathis, Ben Olsen and Bobby Convey, et cetera. It is not like those positions are completely dominated by the foreign-based players, but it is a concern that so many of those players do play those in play-making roles. But I do think down the road there will be a couple of Americans given that opportunity. But as you mentioned, it is a concern."
Claudio Reyna, U.S. Men's National Team midfielder
On if he thought this most recent injury would keep him out of Sunday's match: "Not initially. When I had the trainers check it out, it was quite obvious that it was nothing more than a knock and it swelled up and then I had to fly over. When I did it, I knew it was painful, but I knew I didn't do any twists or tears to the knee. You can never plan or think of that, but it can happen in any major sport. When you play at a high level, you can get injured. I'm happy to get back and just hope that the injury problems of the past 2-3 months are behind me."
On how his knee feels as of today: "I trained today with team and it felt pretty good. I would think by the time Sunday rolls around, I'm sure it will be 100 percent ready to go. Even today it was almost fine enough to play. It's just got a knock and a bit of swelling, but it will be fine for Sunday."
On being away from National Team for so long: "It takes a few days. I will have been training with the team until Sunday, so it should be fine. But most of the players I've played with many times before. After a few training (sessions), the understanding of playing with these guys again with the national team comes back real quick. It shouldn't be an issue with our normal instincts. Like I said, the main group here of the roster has been around together for quite a while, so its not a big change or a difference."
On whether he watched the three U.S. qualifiers he missed due to injury: "I have only seen one game - the home game against Honduras. The other two I was traveling and they just weren't on TV, but I spoke to people about them. The one game I saw was just difficult when you can't play, more nervous because you can't do anything to influence the game. It's just harder when you watch rather than being on the field. It was disappointing, because it was a game that we could've at least maybe got a draw at the end. I think we deserved it. I think the most important thing now is we can learn from the three games that we lost. The main thing is to just tidy up defensively as a whole team. As a unit or as a team, we need to not give away as many chances, even when we are missing players through suspensions or injuries. We need to make sure we really defend well. That's probably the main difference that will give us a good result on Sunday."
On U.S. forward Landon Donovan's skill level at 19 years of age: "I have been impressed with him. He is still young and I don't think too much should be asked of him. He could play an important role for us obviously on Sunday. Landon will have many games where he will help this national team. He has many qualities going forward, he can score goals, create goals and he belongs here on the national team and he has proven it. It is good that he has been able to play in the MLS this year, but he still needs experience and that is very important. He is gaining that now and for the future he will be a huge and important player for this team."
On what he brings to the USA as team captain: "I think that this group as it is works hard in training, so there's not much of a difference. The difference could be on game day when the kickoff starts, that's when you have to show yourself. Everyone does. Hopefully I can lead and my job is to get the team going and try to calm things down. We have to go into this game as 90 minutes, and not try and win before it kicks off and run out there and lose sight that the game is won over 90 minutes. Through the week, I talk to some of the guys individually, but many players here are experienced and have been in pressure situations. I think that the response from everyone, not just me, will be positive because we know what we have to do and that is win. Before we have thought that we can get away without winning here, or a draw would be good here. Now we have to go out and win, and the attitude of the team going into the game should be good."
On if he thinks there are too many expectations put on him for Sunday's game: "Hopefully I can help in the midfield, but I think we have a lot of good players who can lead us and play well. It's not just about one player. There are many guys who can step up, like Earnie (Stewart), Cobi (Jones) and Joe-Max (Moore). Soccer is not about one individual who is going to win a game single-handedly. It is a team effort. I don't feel any pressure or responsibility to do anything."
On a gesture made at the Celtic-Rangers game in Scotland last weekend: "Someone in the crowd made reference to the attack here in America. The press there maybe blew it out of proportion a bit. It was uncalled for, but it was just the action of one person and shouldn't take away from the Old Firm game in Scotland being such a special game that it is. It has been in the press a couple days, and I left the next day after it took place so I didn't catch the response. It was a bit of news, but by the time I get back it will be over with and Celtic Football Club dealt with it immediately and in the correct manner and it shouldn't really be any more than that."
On his reaction: "I didn't react at all. I saw it out of the corner of my eye, but I didn't react. I didn't really believe that it was happening until people said it after. I didn't tell anyone about it in the locker room, I didn't even tell my wife, because I was hoping it wasn't being directed or meant because of that. The press did think that it did connect to that and that is when I had a response. It didn't effect my game at all, it wasn't on my mind until I was told about it. It is over and done with and hopefully it will never happen again."