Arena, Stewart and Sanneh Discuss Upcoming U.S. vs. Honduras Match
BRUCE ARENA, U.S. Men's National Team Head Coach
On injuries and players not available: "I never would have anticipated having the number of injuries we've had. Injuries are still part of the game in every sport and we see that. It has changed how we've moved people along. In summer of 2000 we made a decision to slowly transition Clint Mathis and Josh Wolff into our team. Those plans obviously went haywire once those players were injured. Every step of the way we've had a couple of roadblocks.
"But again, if anything I have learned from this job it's that you need to be able to make adjustments and you need to be flexible. And we have. And I am confident that the group we put on the field Saturday will be a good one and a team that is a capable of getting us three points."
On training this week: "We just got through with a good week of training. Our guys and coaches are relieved that all the hardwork and preparation that it takes to get to the game has basically been completed now, and we look forward to the kickoff on Saturday."
On Landon Donovan and his role and development: "I'm definitely considering starting Landon. It is a no-brainer that he is one of the four candidates to start up top. He's had a good year and I think he's improved. Wherever Landon was going to be this year, if it was a good level of competition, he was going to prove because he's just a gifted player. I think you've seen that. He's made great progress. Are we throwing him in too early at this point in time? That remains to be seen. But Landon is going to be able to help us over the next two games in some capacity."
On Landon Donovan: "There are so many thing he does well. His first touch is tremendous. He has very good vision, he's a good passer, he's a good finisher, he's a good player pressing the opposing player when they have the ball. There are a lot of good things about Landon. If there are any knocks it would be his lack experience and physically he isn't where he needs to be, but overall I am happy with what I see."
On the goalkeeping situation and who will start: "I haven't made a decision on that yet, and from my perspective it has worked out great. Every camp when I'm the U.S. coach, if I can have Kasey (Keller) and Brad (Friedel) in camp, I know our goalkeeping situation is very solid. They've trained very well this week, and they've been outstanding. The only issue with Kasey has not been on the field, but has been on the negotiating table. He's experienced a setback. He was inactive for a good part of the summer, all of July and most of August. He's moved into a situation where he's not a regular right now, but I think in the long haul the move back to the Premiership is going to be good for Kasey. I need to obviously make a decision for this game. Brad Friedel is in great form and has gotten a bunch of games and he is on top of his game right now. It is an interesting decision and I think whatever decision I make is going to be a good choice because I don't think I can go wrong with either goalkeeper."
On picking which goalkeeper will start: "I would think that whoever is number two will not be pleased with the decision, but they know that is all part of it. That is what it is all about, it is about competition and making tough decisions. I am very confident that whoever I go with will get the job done and who ever is the back-up will be a good professional and be there to help out the team."
At kicking off the match at 10:00 a.m.: "I thought initially it was odd, but given the circumstances of playing a qualifying game in this part of this country at this time of the year it is probably nice to play it early. It obviously it hasn't stopped anyone from buying tickets. If anything, I think it is a plus for us."
On the injuries in the center of the midfield: "John O'Brien hasn't played in a qualifying game [in the final round]. Clint Mathis has played in a couple, and Claudio Reyna has played in a couple. We played in Honduras without Claudio, and we will play Saturday without him. We have the right nucleus of players to win the game. Naturally, I would love to have Claudio here, but he's not here and we don't have control of that. I think we have a good group, and we have some veterans returning in the midfield who have played on a consistent basis. I think we have other players who are ready to step up and contribute."
On Clint Mathis and his comeback: "Any time Clint comes back, it will be done on the medical team's sign off. Clint's club career, as well as his national team career, is ahead of him. The last thing we want to do is rush him back if he's not ready. Any time Clint steps back on the field with this team, either in training or in a game, it's going to be cleared by the medical team. I don't think we do the player justice or his club justice or the national team program justice if he's not ready to go. If he gets back to a point physically where everything looks okay and he gets the green light, we would eagerly take him back."
On Brian Maisonneuve's improvements since the Ecuador match in Columbus: "Physically he's stronger, and his ankle is a lot more stable. He's able to get a better push-off, and he's got a little quickness and more power in his game. He's getting more confident as he moves forward. He took a year off, and he had to get some soccer back, which came back sooner than the physical side. Certainly by next year he'll be back to 100%."
On whether there will be added pressure in this game: "I think they are all pressure games. We had six games in the first round, and we've completed six games in this round. So we've completed a dozen games, and I believe each and every game has been pressure. We had no luxuries in the first round. We went to the sixth game and we experienced six pressure games there. We've experienced six pressure games in the final round and we have four more games left, and I expect those to be pressure games as well. The worst case scenario is that after this game we are in second place. The best case scenario is that we are in first place. I can't imagine that takes away from anything we've done to date."
On if the injuries might actually help strengthen the group: "Yes, because I think we had those difficulties last year in the semifinal round and under the pressures we had and making the adjustments and coming through was a real confidence boost for our team. If we make it through these rounds to the World Cup, I think it will be a plus. And at the end of the day, I think then we are going to have a good pool of players to choose from before deciding our final roster. So, hopefully we'll make it through."
On releasing some of the players: "I will try to release a couple of players that could be available to play games this weekend. I will talk to those players and let them have a say in the decision. I would happy to keep all 24 of our players here, but at the same time we understand that a number of clubs in the MLS that are in a very important part of the season and could use the services of some of these players, so we are going to try and provide that option to some of our players."
On not having Claudio Reyna: "You lose a very experienced player, a player who has been our captain, so some leadership qualities there. You lose arguably the best passer on the field, but Honduras loses perhaps their top attacker, David Suazo. So both teams have loses and this is the case in every qualifying game and to be any kind of team that expects to be in the next World Cup you don't spend a lot of time concerning yourself with the losses. You just get your team together, build from the early part of the week, and build a good team concept. That is what we have done, not only in this round, but in the early rounds as well."
On when Josh Wolff might be back: "It is possible. He has been away longer than Clint. I know he's back running again and if our medical staff and Chicago's medical staff gives him the green light to get back on the field we would be happy to have him."
On Earnie Stewart: "It has been great in the two and a half years I've been here I think the first six months of my position I didn't see Earnie a whole lot, but once we got him into camp it was obvious that he wants to be with the U.S. team and that he has great experience and enthusiasm. Thirdly, he's an outstanding player, so to have him around on a consistent basis only makes us a better team. I am happy to see Earnie smiling and walking in the hotel door."
On Brian Maisonneuve's comeback: "I have kept an eye on Brian's progress and we saw him in Columbus before the Ecuador game. He trained with us one day and to get him back in camp at this point is a reward his hard work. I remember Brian from the '96 Olympic Team and he did a great job for me in the Olympics. He's not back to 100 percent but he is getting pretty close and that means that within the next year if we qualify for the next World Cup, he will be a guy who will be competing for a roster spot."
On if he is concerned with Brad Friedel leaving if he doesn't play: "No, I'm not concerned about it at all. I think our two goalkeepers are here because they want to be here and they want to do whatever is neccesary to make us a better team. One knows that he is going to play and the other will be in the back up role."
On Claudio Reyna's injury: "I haven't spoken to Claudio since he's seen the doctor, but our understanding is the injury is not severe and he will be playing in the near future. I would not think it is as much as 4-6 weeks (as first diagnosed). You need to take it one step at a time and see how he feels and monitor his progress that way."
EARNIE STEWART, U.S. Men's National Team Midfielder
On how injuries have effected the U.S. offense: "I don't think it has effected anything. We didn't play well against Mexico, but you are always going to have one or two games in qualifying where you don't do as well as you expect to. Over the rest of the games in the offensive half we haven't done bad. That's about soccer, you are going to have injuries, and there are going to have different players who are going to be on the top of their performance levels. And those players will play."
On Landon's improvement: "One thing Landon is young, and he's a great player already. He has speed, he's great on the ball and he can dribble opponents. Because he's a young kid he likes to take people on all the time, and when you do that and you pass that defender it creates two-on-one situations somewhere else. That is when Landon is quality. He has come along quite a way, and he is overall a very good player."
On whether he feels a burden to score: "No, I don't care who scores. We want to go out there, and we want to win. I guess when you get older you take a little more responsibility. I go into every game and I hope to score and I want to score. Bit in the end it's not important who scores. It is just important that we are in World Cup 2002, and that is what we are trying to do."
On whether others are starting to look to him more: "Maybe that is the case. You accept the responsibility and if I'm going one-on-one with the goalie I'll be sure to score."
On going to play in the MLS: "No, I still have a contract for two years now and I haven't spoken to anybody. I would like to come here with my family and live here and play in the MLS.
TONY SANNEH, U.S. Men's National Team Midfielder/Defender
On playing in D.C. and such a pro-US crowd: "It's great for us to be playing here. And for me, especially because I have played here before, these are friendly confines. A lot of time we go out, like in Mexico, and we really feel the pressure of playing in front of a hostile crowd. It will be nice to go out and hopefully be able to take advantage of the situation here."
On Honduras: "We know that they are offensively strong and like to counter attack. They need to win this game, so we need to control the tempo."