ussoccer.com: You started the Gold Cup with a couple objectives in mind: first, to get out the group, and second to evaluate players. Are you satisfied with what you’ve accomplished so far?
Bruce Arena: “We’ve advanced out of the group stage, but I don’t think we’ve played as well as we are capable of playing. Hopefully, that will happen Saturday. We’ve gotten up close and personal with a number of players. We’ve gotten to know all 23 players on the roster. Obviously, we know some of them pretty well, but getting to see some of the new faces up close is important, getting to know what they are about both on and off the field. Overall, it’s been positive. Now we have to see if we can go about the business of advancing in the tournament.”
ussoccer.com: One of the players you clearly wanted to get playing time is John O’Brien. How would you rate his progress?
BA: “John O’Brien is doing well. He’s made a lot of progress since we saw him in Chicago in training camp for the England game. He has steadily improved in the physical end. The soccer comes back to him very quickly. He’s just a good soccer player. In another 3-4 weeks he’ll be in very good form.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve liked him in the positions he’s played so far?
BA: “Yeah. We’re going to play him in different spots in the midfield. He’s clearly a midfield player. He’s too good in his passing to even consider him for a left back at this point in time. We’ll take it one step at a time, but I think the best spot for him is somewhere in the midfield.”
ussoccer.com: Two other veterans you haven’t seen in a while are Tony Sanneh and Chris Armas. What have you seen from them?
BA: “Tony Sanneh has played two games for us, and in all honesty, has had his ups and downs. He’s a little bit behind physically at the international level, and he’s going to have to make that up if he has any aspirations of staying with the national team over the next year. Tony benefits from coming in and seeing where he needs to get to in order to make this team and help this team. Chris Armas, on the other hand, seems like he’s getting pretty close to the form he had before he was injured. His fitness is pretty good. The soccer has been pretty good, and he’s got a great work ethic. In both games he has been pretty solid.”
ussoccer.com: So you think Armas is capable of getting back to the level he was performing at before the World Cup in 2002?
BA: “I think Chris can still help us at this level. You can’t have too many good players, so it’s good to see that Chris is moving himself back into the picture.”
ussoccer.com: At the other end of the spectrum, you have seen much more of Jimmy Conrad. How would you rate Jimmy’s performance over the first three games?
BA: “Jimmy Conrad has been a pleasant surprise. I think in the early going in training camp he wasn’t at his best – perhaps a little bit nervous. But as he’s settled in with the group he’s gotten better and better each day. His game against Costa Rica was excellent. The 45 minutes he gave us against Canada was very good, and he had a good solid 90 minutes against Cuba. He’s a player who has definitely moved himself up in the depth chart in terms of defenders.”
ussoccer.com: What’s the hardest part for a newcomer like Conrad in adjusting to the speed of the international level?
BA: “That is the hardest part - trying to get adjusted quickly. For some players it happens sooner than others. Jimmy’s not a young kid. He’s experienced in the league. He understands what this is about. He’s a very dedicated professional. He’s pretty bright, and I think he’s been able to make adjustments rather quickly.”
ussoccer.com: Another young player that people have been following is Clint Dempsey. He’s shown flashes of individual skill, and at the same time is still getting used to the international level. How would you rate his progress?
BA: “Right now Clint is inexperienced. The game is a little too fast for him right now. Only time will tell if he can adjust to it and figure some things out on his own. I think if he’s challenged more on a daily basis in the league, he will get better. Right now he gets away with a lot of sloppy plays. When he’s pushed to have to be better, hopefully he’ll improve and position himself to be better at the international level.”
ussoccer.com: His teammate from New England, Steve Ralston, also seems to be having not only a good tournament, but a good year overall for the national team …
BA: “Steve has played well. He’s shown that he is a player that can play at this level. Hopefully, over the next year he’ll continue to get better for us, and keep sharp in terms of his fitness. He’s a player that has only helped his position on the team.”
ussoccer.com: In terms of consistency, you have mentioned Steve Cherundolo as a player you have been satisfied with. Talk about his performance …
BA: “Steve has been one of our better players. He just gets better and better. All the hard work he has put in over the years in the Bundesliga is paying dividends. He is demonstrating that he’s a quality right back, and a guy we need to pencil in the lineup each and every game.”
ussoccer.com: With a year left before the World Cup in Germany, can players play themselves out of contention even at this early stage?
BA: “I think players can both help their cause and hurt their cause in this tournament. However, we haven’t qualified yet for the World Cup. That’s our number one objective this year. After that, we focus on selecting what we feel is the best group to give us an opportunity to win in Germany. A year is a long time, especially in this sport. What you do in July of 2005 doesn’t necessarily state your cause for selection June of 2006. There’s a lot of time between now and next year, and we’re going to have to be patient and keep an eye on all the players, regardless of the form they show here.”
ussoccer.com: Looking at the big picture in terms of evaluating the team, what have the first three games shown you as far as the team needs for the future?
BA: “I think one area we have demonstrated a glaring weakness in this tournament is we don’t have enough forwards. Obviously we are missing some. You think about Brian McBride, Eddie Johnson, and Brian Ching among others that have been part of the national team over the last couple years, and we couldn’t bring in Taylor Twellman because of an injury. So we’ve lost out a little bit in that area. It’s something that concerns me. In this camp, in this particular tournament, hopefully we get better. It helps to get Beasley back in the mix with us. Getting O’Brien back has been a real plus. I think Ralston and Cherundolo have played quite well. Mastroeni has shown flashes of being the kind of player he can be for us. Certainly Landon has had an impact on most of the games, which is good. In the back, we’ve seen good play from not only Cherundolo, but Eddie pope and Oguchi Onyewu alongside Conrad. Kasey Keller continues to show well, and Marcus Hahnemann and Matt Reis have made a good impression. There have been a lot of positives.”
ussoccer.com: With the quarterfinal match against Jamaica two days away, can you update us on the injury status of the team?
BA: “At this point we have a few nagging injuries. We’re hurting a little bit in the back, with Frankie Hejduk serving a suspension in the Jamaica game, and Eddie Pope and Tony Sanneh carrying nagging injuries. A decision on how were’ going to play on Saturday is still up in the air.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve had the opportunity to watch all of Jamaica’s first round games. What has been your impression so far?
BA: “Jamaica is a very good team. They played quite well, and their game against Mexico was a good showing. They’ve shown great athletic ability all over the field, and they have dangerous strikers like Damani Ralph, Ricardo Fuller and Jermaine Johnson. They are getting good passing out of the midfield from Jermaine Hue and Andy Williams. They are a good team going forward, and they’ve got a great physical presence in the last third of the field and can defend quite well at times.”
ussoccer.com: In the USA’s first three games, the opponents have tended to drop off and put numbers behind the ball. Do you expect the same approach from Jamaica?
BA: “Jamaica will play a little more open than our past opponents. However, their backline will be fairly conservative in their movements, so they are going to be tough to break down. But they will go forward with a lot more numbers than we saw from our previous opponents."
ussoccer.com: From a defensive standpoint, where does the U.S. need to focus?
BA: "We need to focus on Jamaica’s speed and one-on-one abilities. They come at you quickly. We have to defend well in one-v-one situations, and have players in good supporting positions.”
ussoccer.com: In the attacking end, where do see the opportunities?
BA: “I think we can get at them in the midfield. We’ve got good speed and good technical ability. We’ll try to exploit the speed we have down the flanks of the field. But it’s like any game, they are impossible to predict before kickoff.”
ussoccer.com: Will the U.S. gain a little edge with the Jamaicans having to travel to Boston after just moving to Houston a couple days earlier and getting one less day of rest?
BA: “Hopefully there is an advantage that they have one day less rest and travel. That’s generally the format in these tournaments. We get rewarded for winning our group and Jamaica gets punished for finishing third. It’s all part of the tournament strategy that everyone is aware of before you get started. “
ussoccer.com: Will the U.S. benefit from keeping the group fresh by having had the ability to play 22 players over three games?
BA: “I don’t know. That remains to be seen. I think where you do see the benefits of limiting minutes of players is in the fourth game. So we’ll see.”
ussoccer.com: With the resume the U.S. continues to build and the consistency of winning – particularly at home – will anything less than reaching the championship match be a disappointment?
BA: “I think the way we play in this tournament is most important to us. Being inside the team and understanding what we’re trying to achieve – that’s the bottom line. Results are obviously critical. National teams are evaluated on results. Rarely do people see anything but results. Obviously, getting in the championship game is important. If we fail to get there, it remains to be seen how we evaluate our performance. We don’t need to win this tournament. Our focus is qualifying for the World Cup. The Gold Cup is icing on the cake for 2005. We want to see if we can improve the quality of our play.”