The following comments are from U.S. Men’s National Team manager Bruce Arena's media conference call June 10 to discuss the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup, which will be played in various cities in France from June 18-29. The U.S. has been placed in a very challenging Group B with 2002 World Cup champion Brazil, third-place finisher Turkey and 2000 Olympic champion Cameroon. The U.S. will depart for France tomorrow (June 11).
In the last FIFA Confederations Cup in Mexico in 1999, the U.S. finished third in the eight-team field. The U.S. advance to the semi-finals after finishing second in the group after a 2-1 win over New Zealand and a 2-0 win over Germany sandwiched around a narrow 1-0 loss to Brazil. After losing 1-0 to Mexico, the U.S. finished with a 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia to claim the bronze medal.
The U.S. MNT is coming off yesterday’s 2-1 win over New Zealand in Richmond, Va., in which they wore retro jerseys styled after those worn in the USA’s shocking 1-0 win over England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. The U.S. is now 5-1-1 in 2003.
After the Confederations Cup, the team returns home to face Paraguay on July 6 at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The busy schedule continues with the U.S. defending its confederation title in the 2003 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which will be played in three cities from July 12-23. The U.S. will begin group play in Boston against El Salvador on July 12 and Martinique on July 14.
Bruce Arena, U.S. MNT Manager
“Our 23-man team is finally complete for the first time. Hopefully we can take advantage in order to have our team properly prepared for the opening game against Turkey. We look forward to the Confederations Cup. It is a great opportunity to test our team against some of the best teams in the world. Additionally, it gives me a great opportunity to evaluate some of our players as we prepare for not only the Gold Cup in July, but also World Cup qualifying which we anticipate will start next January.”
On the timing of the tournament:
“Well, first of all I think having the Confederations Cup following the World Cup the next year is difficult. The big complaint with clubs is noticably in Europe where a lot of their players were involved in World Cups and in other competitions. Many of those players have had a long year. And we have that same situation with our European players, such as Friedel and Keller and Sanneh and O’Brien, which is why they are not here. It is difficult on the players. I think the timing of the Confederations Cup isn’t great.
For the U.S. team we can look at it as good or bad as well. It's great that we have a large group of our players who are relatively fresh in our MLS players. However, it’s a major burden on MLS because MLS is not suited to have players gone for long periods of time, because their rosters are quite small and they cannot afford to lose the kind of players that they’re losing. It’s very difficult on everybody. In my opinion I would say that the timing of the Confederations Cup is not good and needs to be thought up again down the road. But hopefully we can put a good team together and have a good showing at the Confederations Cup.”
On what players in camp he is evaluating closest:
“I don’t think it is any particular player as much as really the entire group. We have one veteran here in Earnie Stewart where clearly I don’t think I am going to see that much more out of, except the fact that we continue to see that he can help us even at 34 years old. We have a young goalkeeper ... it will be interesting to see. I still feel comfortable having goalkeepers prepare to play international soccer. In my mind I am still not convinced that Friedel and Keller will be around in 2006 if we will be there. They will be 36 and 35 years old. It’s important for our goalkeepers that are here. Not only if they step on the field, but just to see them in training and see how they handle themselves around the team.
If you look at our defenders, we have a number of young ones. It is important for all of them from Cherundolo to Califf to Bocanegra to Gibbs. It’s almost every player. Armas is coming off from a long layover. Chris Klein is getting his first opportunity in compeition at this level. Then we have our three younger players in Convey, Beasley and Donovan that I continue to look at. We have new forwards here, Twellman in particular. We want to look at Mathis and Kirovski. I don’t think there are a couple players that I could single out, it’s the entire group that I really need to get a handle on as we move forward.”
On how opponents view the U.S. after the World Cup:
“I think as we enter the competition our opponents are well aware of the fact that we have the ability to win games at this level. I don’t think they are going to be taking us for granted. However, we are playing against three countries that have pretty impressive credentials. I don’t think they are worried about the U.S. You have a semifinalist in Turkey, the World Champion in Brazil and the African Champion in Cameroon, so we are in some pretty difficult company there.”
On a previous statement about ‘bloodying’ some of the younger players:
“Well I don’t know if 'bloody' is a good word. I think whatever we’ve done with these players is good, it’s a positive. I told the team minutes ago: I don’t even know what the lineup is going to be for Turkey. So at this point I’m not sure how we are going to use our 23-man roster. They all need to be prepared to play. I told them that. It’s the same thing I told them in the World Cup. We played 19 players in the World Cup out of a 23-man roster, and two that didn’t play were goalkeepers and one was injured, so I think we’re prepared to make full use of our roster here. And whether guys get a lot of minutes or not I think it’s still a positive. An example is Kyle Martino. I think just having him with us, giving him the opportunity to witness this type of competition is going to help him develop as a player. Using the word bloody, I used it in a positive fashion. I think its going to help all these guys develop at this level as well as giving me the opportunity to clearly evaluate where every player is.”
On the risk of using this method to test many younger players against such a high level of competition:
“Bloodied means giving the players experience; not killing them. It’s how to find the right balance between trying to win games and trying to give players experience, and that’s what I’ve got to get a grip of. And how I do that, I can’t tell you right now. It’s not something I’ve been working on in the lab. Like with the World Cup, you work with the instincts. I told our team we are going to put a team on the field in the first game that will hopefully put us in a position to beat Turkey. And after that game is over we will worry about Brazil. We’re going to take it one step at a time. The only difference between this and the World Cup is you don’t have that much time in between games to prepare, so all of the 23 guys have to be ready. It is highly unlikely that many players can play three games in five days. Some of these young players are going to get thrown in there whether we like it or not.”
On the Group B teams in the Confederations Cup:
“I have not seen their roster. That has not been announced anywhere, so we don’t know the group that they are bringing. If it has any similarities to the team we have seen in European [Championship] qualifying and the World Cup, it’s a team that’s very aggressive going forward and with good players in every position. Their outside backs will go forward. They are skillful and quick in the counter. Their goalkeeping has been outstanding. They are a good, aggressive attacking team, and I think that you saw that in the World Cup.”
“There are some new faces. However, I will tell you that they have some outstanding players in every position. You have Ronaldinho as an attacking player, you have Emerson in the midfield, Lucio as a defender and Dida in goal. Right there are four outstanding players in the middle of the field. It’s a very good team and it will be interesting to see them play.”
“From what I saw in the World Cup is obviously a very athletic, attack-oriented team as well. They look like a team that will be fun to play against. I know they are bringing over a number of veterans from the World Cup. They are going to be obviously a very difficult team to beat in this group.”
On the team’s and his personal mindset going in to the tournament:
“We are going to step on the field and think we can win every game. We are not worried about it. I think it is great that we can play in this competition against quality teams and really not have the pressure to produce results. I think it is great for our team. I don’t feel any pressure. I don’t know if you could say that I am confident, but I really look forward to the games. They are going to be interesting to see how our team responds to playing against teams of this caliber. It should be fun.”
On the grind on players based in Europe:
“First I think the players that were really in a grind in Europe were the players out of Italy who had to play in the Champions League finals, and not all these players have been in Champions League playing two or three games a week for four or five months. Everybody always thinks about the grind that Real Madrid has been in, Man. U. has been in, Inter and A.C. Milan, but realistically when you look at these rosters, it’s not the case. Where it is the case, those players have been given the Confederations Cup off. An example of that would obviously be Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, etc. So I don’t think you are going to show up to the Confederations Cup with eight countries with players that are exhausted. I don’t think that’s the case. I think that has resulted in some players being left off the roster, but I think you’re going to see teams that are prepared to play and are going to give a great effort and have something to show.”
On younger players looking at this tournament as a way to grab his attention:
“Well, they better. I mean that’s the way to do it. There’s competition coming from our players. We have a number of players who are not here so our guys know that there’s a lot of competition not only within the roster of 23 players but within our entire pool. So if you’re going to grab my attention, it would probably be a smart thing to have a big showing in the Confederations Cup.”
On Clint Mathis and his expected contributions:
“I know he had a little bit of a tough going in MLS last year. This year he is off to a great start in MLS. He has scored five goals. I think he is pretty focused and dedicated to getting himself better. He is in better shape this year than last year. I am hopeful that Clint can get an opportunity to show what he can do. I think he has done a good job of moving forward from what I saw out of him in January when we were in camp in Florida. He has definitely put himself in a better position to be successful. I anticipate that we are going to see some good soccer out of Clint.”
On how many players he will look at for the Gold Cup:
“I am certainly going to look at some other players in the Gold Cup. That is going to depend on what happens in this Confederations Cup -- how long we go, what kind of injuries we suffer -- as well as how the players are doing in MLS over this next month while we are away. I will follow their progress and hopefully most of them stay fit so that they can be considered for the Gold Cup. We do want to look at some other players.
There are some players who we would have liked to bring in for the Confederations Cup but couldn’t do that. We already know that Kasey Keller is going to be included on the Gold Cup roster. If Claudio Reyna gets fit, we will include him as well. There are going to be changes, and changes for the good to give more players opportunities to impress before we get into the serious stuff of qualifying next year.”
On the pool of defenders and thoughts on that position:
“I don’t have complete answers on this. Obviously losing Eddie Pope was a big blow because we were counting on Eddie to be our veteran player back there for this Confederations Cup and that’s not happening. Additionally Tony Sanneh’s not fit, so that’s a loss. So that’s two more veteran defenders that we’re not able to go with. When we look at the group we have now we have two on the right side in Hejduk and Cherundolo. And Frankie has played in two World Cups and wants to play in a third one. He has definitely proven to me that he is a big game player and he’s a reliable guy. He’s a guy you can count on.
In the center back we’re looking at a combination of players: Dan Califf is one. Dan’s only 23. We’re looking at Califf, Bocanegra, Berhalter and Gibbs in that position as well as Vanney on the left, and you know our last game we had the opportunity to look at [Ryan] Suarez out of Dallas, C.J. Brown and Jeff Agoos. So there are a couple of players that are still pretty big and some young ones that I think need to have the opportunity. So certainly I’m going to give Califf and Bocanegra and Gibbs and Cherundolo a look in the Confederations Cup and see what they are like.”
On whether Claudio Reyna could potentially play right back for the U.S. in the future:
“We think at this point he is a midfielder. Can he play at the right back? Sure he could. He is a good player. He could play anywhere, like [John] O’Brien could play as a left back. That would a nice situation where we could afford to play Claudio at right back and O’Brien at left back. If that ever happens I don’t think it could be the worst thing for us. But, my thinking right now is that we need Claudio playing in the middle of the field.”
On Landon Donovan’s current and future role with the team:
“Landon’s now a player with a fair amount of experience at this level. I expect Landon to step up and emerge as one of our key players in this next four-year cycle. Landon continues to impress me. He is also a player who is versatile enough to play both in the midfield and up front. That remains to be an issue that we need to deal with inside this team to see where we need to put him to make our team the best team possible. I clearly expect Landon to step up and be a good player in this Confederations Cup, and a good player as we continue to move forward.”
On John O’Brien’s fitness:
“I have not talked to him recently. Glenn Myernick has. We know that at the end of the season with Ajax he dealt with an issue with his Achilles again. Right now, he’s on holiday in Spain and we haven’t been able to talk to him. But certainly, John had a tough year because it took him probably five months to rehabilitate that Achilles injury and when he got back on the field Ajax was in the Champions League and he was playing three games a week and it beat him up pretty good. I know at the end he was exhausted and again his Achilles flared up. He needs some time off. My guess is we probably won’t see John until next year.”
On the pool of U.S. goalkeepers:
“I think they get stronger every year. You can only play one goalkeeper at a time. That is what I have figured out in all my years at this. We know we’ve got two pretty good ones right now in Friedel and Keller. They are proven, the others are not. Tim Howard has great potential.
I think there are a number of other goalkeepers in MLS that are in that position as well. Adin Brown is one. Nick Rimando played our last game against Wales and did well. There are a number of players like that: (Kevin) Hartman and there’s a young one in Dallas as well. Just our domestic keepers alone are solid. This time around is the first time around that I have seen Hahnemann and Cannon. They demonstrated to be pretty good. I saw Marcus play this year for Reading; he played probably 40 matches and had a good year. He is an experienced guy; he is solid. Joe in the last week has impressed me. The first week in San Jose was difficult for him with all of the travel in a short amount of time to get ready for that game. But again, they are two good goalkeepers. It is hard for me after our first two to really place them in any kind of order.
The only thing I know at this point is that we have a pretty solid pool of goalkeepers that follow both Keller and Friedel. Tim has gotten enough experience in the last half year to demonstrate to me that he is a player who can play at this level as well.”
On the changes in American soccer since the World Cup in Korea:
“I think it brought a lot more attention to this sport in this country. Coverage has been better. I think it’s been good for the MLS, who kicked off their eighth season in a good fashion. And now with the Women’s World Cup coming to the U.S. I think that’s another positive for soccer in our country. The more soccer that stays in the minds of sports fans in this country I think is beneficial to the sport. Additionally we see in our youth programs and our youth systems that we’re continuing to produce good players. That, coupled with the results in the World Cup and the continuation of the professional leagues, I think it’s been a real plus for soccer in this country. And clearly at this point in time soccer continues to grow and I would anticipate will continue to move forward. This past weekend, the opening of the Home Depot Center was a major shot in the arm for the sport in this country. So all I see is positive things happening in the sport, and I anticipate that things are only going to get better.”
On Tim Howard’s ability and room for improvement:
“Experience is important. Tim is still relatively young. He is 24 years old. He maybe has 150 professional games under his belt, maybe a couple of more or less. He needs more games. If you think about it, our top two guys have played in thousands of games at this point. They have 60, 70 or 80 international caps. They have played in World Cups; they have played against some of the top teams in the world. They have a lot more experience.
However, I have said recently that Tim, at this stage of his career, is ahead of those guys because he has gotten more professional games than they had. He doesn’t have the experiences at the international level. I think he needs more games, and as he gets more games he is going to get better. He is a terrific shot-blocker. His distribution is very good. He needs to get a little better at commanding the players in front of him, but that comes with experience. I think his feet can get a little better in the goal, but he is good in that area as well. I think Tim is the full package. As he continues to move forward and if he is in the right environment he is only going to get better.”
On whether the rumored signing of Howard with Manchester United would be a good move for him:
“It’s much easier for field players to mimic game conditions in training than it is for goalkeepers. The goalkeepers that don’t play have a tough time improving. If this eventual transfer to Man. U. happens and Tim never steps on the field again I don’t think that is going to help his progress. However, my guess is that the reason Man. U. is acquiring Tim is because they see the potential there. In their minds, they are going to try to get Tim on the field and move him forward. It may not happen immediately, but I think if he does make that move it’s being made to get him on the field and show what he can do.”