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Conference Call: U.S. MNT Head Coach Bob Bradley Discusses Upcoming World Cup Qualifier vs. Barbados

U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach Bob Bradley

Opening comments:
“I think our team has done a very good job of settling back here in Los Angeles. It’s a place where we’re very comfortable in terms of getting our work done. Training the last two days has been good. I think the excitement about beginning World Cup qualifying is there for sure. We are anxious to get started and look forward to using these last few days to polish up some little details as we get ready to face Barbados this Sunday.”

On the health of his squad:
“We are very healthy at this point. We didn’t come away from the last games with any injuries. Brian Ching joined us this week so we feel that we have a strong group.”

On why it’s important to have a full U.S. MNT team together vs. Barbados:
“It’s the start of World Cup qualifying. Everybody understands the importance of these games. We look forward to the time that we do have together. As you know, the national team schedule is a unique one for any country and we are always excited when we have a chance to work together and, obviously, play important matches.”

On what he can say about the Barbados team:
“They are always athletic. They have some talented individuals. They have added some players for World Cup qualifying, and I think that you see a team with a Caribbean style that has some individual flare and some overall athleticism.”

On what steps are being taken to guard against complacency:
“We are fortunate that we have some experienced players who have been through World Cup qualifying. I think they have done an excellent job of setting a good tone in terms of the importance of these games, in terms of what to expect and making sure that we never take anything lightly.”

On how Sacha Kljestan has progressed as a player:
“Sacha Kljestan has clearly improved a lot. I think that he did an excellent job when he came on as a sub against Argentina. He’s in the midst of another good season. I think he has the ability to combine with people on the field. He’s a very good player to play with. His sense of how to use his teammates, where to move, how to get the ball, all those things are very good. I think we continue to see just an overall maturity to his game, in terms of doing more to help the team when the other team has the ball and just finding ways to be an all-around player, yet still use his talents.”

On stopping Norman Ford and whether the team concentrates on stopping certain players or whether they are more focused on attacking and playing their own game:
“I think that we concentrate on what we need to do yet at the same time we always prepare our team with some sense as to how the other team plays and key players. Norman Ford, their No. 10, certainly a lot of their attacking play goes through him and we still would want to do the best we can to close him down and not give him the opportunity to make the game for Barbados.

On whether any players stood out after the last three games, particularly Heath Pearce:
“Heath (Pearce) continues to grow in this role and I think these games were particularly important for him because he came off a season where he didn’t see consistent playing time. We certainly begin to feel that in the latter parts of 2007, his play at left back has been solid for us and that the continued time for us is going to pay off and I think that’s clearly been the case.”

On whether he is concerned with the team’s lack of scoring:
“Again, the scoring part, we are always looking at all sides to things. When you play those kinds of teams, you don’t expect that you are going to create a lot of chances yet we had some good ones and didn’t take advantage. Certainly, if you look at the last year and a half, we have done an overall good job of scoring goals. I think that we’ve done a good job of taking advantage of opportunities on set pieces and we want to utilize all ways to be a dangerous team and score goals in qualifying.”

On what the three previous matches did to prepare the U.S. MNT to face Barbados:
“I think it sharpens us in every way: the ability to react quickly, see plays quickly, the kind of movement that is needed on the field. Again, I think, when we arrived in England on May 22, it wasn’t even the entire group. You have players that are at different points in their season. Some have played a lot of games, are tired, we need to get them back. Other’s haven’t played as much, you have guys that have been off anywhere from four days to 11 or 12 days. We feel like we progressed throughout that period of time. I think our fitness level got better and we hope that all of those things are where we need to be for these upcoming games.”

On the need to be more dangerous from the run of play and the role of Brian Ching as the target man:
“We’re excited to have Brian Ching in. I think that he’s a different kind of forward for us. A player that is strong, can hold the ball, can bring other people into play. I thought that he had a good game for us against Poland and we’re pleased to bring him back into our team. I think we go through different periods and, certainly, when you play against three very good teams, when you don’t get many chances, it does highlight the fact that the continued attempt to improve, in terms of creating good chances and finishing good chances in the run of play is a good part of what all teams are working on. I think that the ideas are good. I think at some moments still the execution will improve. It’s an area where we work all the time.”

On the requirements playing as an outside back in his system and how big of an adjustment it is from their club team:
“I don’t think that there is a great amount of difference between the way these guys play with their club teams and the way that we ask them to play. In Heath’s case, it should be mentioned that while he plays both left back and left midfield, he played more in the midfielder. In his case, it’s a factor. But I think very hard and they understand the positioning side and how to stay connected with the other parts of the back line. Their movement to take good positions as we start to build the play is very important, certainly as we start to play through our midfielder and now the ability to play the ball wide and use the space there is important. And finally, the ability to get forward when the opportunity is right and get some crosses into the box is equally important in terms of creating chances. So I think these players all understand what we are looking for and when we think about the challenges in the last three games, certainly in so many cases the reaction time to be in the right spot is so much faster so when you do move out wide and now the ball turns over, and the other team is attacking, when you play against great teams and great players, the need to get back in position quickly so that there are not gaps in your defense is something you only experience against top teams and top players. I think our players all benefited from seeing what that’s been like in the past few games.”

On what fans can expect from the U.S. MNT against Barbados after coming off three huge games:
“Clearly, in a home game, it is our responsibility to attack, to handle the ball well and to mix up our attack are all important things in terms of creating chances against a team that may indeed choose to keep a lot of numbers back. It’s an interesting challenge because again, you want to play with a certain amount of urgency but yet at the same time, the game requires some patience to find some of these seams and holes, get one in, find the right pass at the right time, and mostly, getting the final parts of plays right, when you create advantage, the right cross, the right pass and obviously finishing well. When you understand the kind of game that we might find ourselves in, the ability to pry open defenses like that is important. We have talked about and worked on in the past few days.”

On what are some of the other things he needs to see from the players and from the system in order to have success once the team has reached the 2010 World Cup:
“You need to understand over time how the team must grow in terms of understanding how it plays. You need younger players with the experience to continue to improve. You need to feel that your key players are taking more and more responsibility, not only on the field but off of the field in terms of their leadership. It’s really about growth. As we start this two year period, we understand that World Cup qualifying is always a challenge and you have tough games along the way. You certainly understand in CONCACAF the types of opponents, the way they play, the types of conditions, and then all of these factors are there to challenge us to grow and become better, and in all ways understand what it takes to be successful in a World Cup.”

On some of the things he approaches differently than other coaches in the past heading into this World Cup:
“That’s a hard question to answer. Again, I think we have found our own way to work in the past year and a half. I think that we have tried to establish a good sense in every camp how we want to play. We certainly continue to raise the bar when we play top opponents so that we can see areas where we need to improve and I think on the inside, there is a good level of understanding and a good level of trust. I think that the players feel good about the work that has been put in and the level of progress that has been made.”

On what Frankie Hejduk brings to the roster:
“Well, the fact that Frankie keeps himself in tremendous shape is certainly always a way to compete at a high level and, in addition to that, Frankie has a great way to lift everyone else on the team. He’s a super competitor and he is not fazed by anything. He is a total team guy and so there’s a looseness and freshness to Frankie in terms of the way he shows up every day and still obviously he loves to play and compete. It rubs off on everybody and I think anyone who has had the good fortune to coach him would tell you that he makes the group better every day and we appreciate those qualities.”

On the impact of Landon Donovan in regards to creativity in the midfield and which players could step into that role:
“Beating teams like Argentina and England obviously takes an all-around game. We challenged ourselves with those games so that we could see for ourselves areas where we need to improve. Landon is without a doubt a key player for us. His ability to move around the field, he’s dynamic, he’s fast, his timing is good, he makes a huge difference. On the other hand, we’ve also played some games without him and I think that there are other players that have shown the ability to make attacking plays. DaMarcus Beasley has showed that ability. Clint Dempsey has shown that ability. I think we’re all hopeful that Freddy Adu will continue to mature. His first half against Spain, I think, was a positive one in all ways. We feel like there are a group of players that have those abilities and we constantly are looking to see how to find the right balance in the team and to take advantage of the talents that different players have.”

On whether there are any discussions in which he can advise players on where they can get better playing time and experience:
“I think that we have good dialogue with all of our players. Obviously, decisions that they make in their careers are important, not only to them on an individual level, but important also to our National Team. We are always hoping to see our players play important roles on very good teams, to come into camp where they have been playing regularly, where they’re sharp and where the experience that they’re getting with their club teams then comes back into our National Team program. We do have discussions about opportunities. Obviously, at the end of the day, a player, along with family and representatives, makes decisions, but we’re always involved to the degree that the players understand opportunities that may help their careers and therefore help us.”

On whether there is ever a danger of an emotional letdown after playing Argentina to play against Barbados:
“It’s a key part of any team that we have players that have been through qualifying and understand what it’s like and never to take any opponent lightly. You can tell that in the last few days as we’ve switched gears from this three-game stretch of playing top teams to World Cup qualifying, you constantly hear Landon Donovan, Timmy Howard and Carlos Bocanegra and others talking to their teammates about what to expect and how the first game is key and how we’re home and what we need to do early in the game. We talk about those things as a team, we go over things in meetings, we work on things on the field, but there’s nothing more important than the voices of experience telling others what it’s going to be like. I think that’s been very, very important.”

On what can be expected from the U.S. team:
“Certainly the responsibility is on us in the home match to attack, to create opportunities, to score goals. We believe that must be done in an intelligent fashion. There must be some amount of patience so that you know how to create the opportunities. I think sometimes, keeping possession, moving the ball around so that there’s also a way of opening up the defense by moving the ball is important. We’ll look to utilize all these thoughts and hope that we can execute well and create the opportunities and score the goals.”

On what DaMarcus Beasley can provide the team after coming back from his injury:
“DaMarcus has made an incredible recovery from his knee injury. I think we were all very excited with his play against Argentina. He was very mobile in that game. He worked very hard for the team. You could see the types of runs and quickness that have always been a part of his game, come back very, very strong. Again, I think that DaMarcus is one of our most important players. He has the kind of quickness that can open up defenses. He has certainly grown in terms of his ability to intelligently decide when to pass the ball and move, when to take people on, he continues to work hard, his crossing to set up goals and his finishing. He was a very important player for us last year during the Gold Cup. We missed him during a period of games when he was out of action and it’s very, very nice to have him back with our team.”

On what Beasley is missing right now:
“I think just the game sharpness, the consistency and the sharpness of making the right play at the right time. When you come back from injury, that part can sometimes go up and down a little bit. I think that getting him back on the field, getting him games, we’ll see that type of sharpness in his play return very quickly.”