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Quote Sheet: Bruce Arena Conference Call

CHICAGO (Wednesday, May 22, 2002) - U.S. Men's National Team head coach Bruce Arena addressed the U.S. media before departing for the World Cup one final time on Wednesday via a national conference call prior to the team's Thursday departure for Korea.

BRUCE ARENA - U.S. Men’s National Team head coach

“Thank you for joining us. I can only say that we look forward to the World Cup. Our team is very excited, our organization is very excited, because I think we prepared well for this tremendous challenge. I think our players will be ready come June 5. I think as an organization, we prepared well so that our players’ only concern will be stepping on the field and trying to be successful. I’m very confident that they’ll give us a good showing. The last six months of planning and preparing for the opening game is just about done. We kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel and we’re very excited and we look forward to the challenge.”

On what the starting lineup might be for the June 5 match versus Portugal:
“Of course, that’s a good question, but clearly at this point we don’t have a starting line-up established.  I told the players that after the game against Holland, so I think that is good news, because there are a number of players that are positioning for consideration to be in our starting eleven.  The most difficult position is in the goal. We need to choose between either Brad Friedel or Kasey Keller.  I think they both have been outstanding, both in camp and in the last couple of international games. We need to finalize our back four and there are about six or seven candidates for our back four.  We need to fill out our midfielder line-up and also need to decide on our right combination of forwards.  These various combination question marks exist because I think we’ve have a pretty good showing from our guys over the last couple of weeks, so it is hard to make a final determination at this point. But whomever we go with we are going to have a pretty good group with good options coming off the bench. Then naturally we have to take into account our opponent in the opening game before we make our final selection.”

On how the team has started preparing for its opening round opponents:
“We haven’t done any film work with the team. That would be putting the cart ahead of the horse, so to speak. We focused on getting these three games past us. But naturally, when we arrive in Korea, we’ll focus on Portugal. We’ve put in a tremendous number of hours on tape and scouting reports, and that’s all set at this point. We’re fully prepared on our scouting reports on Portugal and pretty well-prepared for what we think we need to do for that game. My staff has done an excellent job. Glenn Myernick is heading up our scouting. He’s been in charge of Portugal, Dave Sarachan has Korea, and Glenn and George Gelnovatch will handle Poland. And then my focus, in all honesty, I’m just going to look at Portugal from here to June 5. Our staff will then have the preparations for the Korea game ready once the Portugal game is over and then I’ll start thinking about that. I cheated a little bit today and watched a half of Korea-England, but we’re going to take it one step at a time. My focus is completely on Portugal after the Holland game, and our staff will have us ready for the other two games as we move forward.”

On if he feels this team is good enough to advance to the second round of the 2002 World Cup:
“I think so. We aren’t going to Korea to have a vacation, we’re going there to play three plus games.  That is our attitude and we are hopeful it happens. But certainly we go there with a lot of optimism.  We know it is not going to be easy, but I think we are going to be fully prepared and able to step into the game wanting to believe that we can win.”

On if his remaining decisions about the starting lineup will be made with regard to players’ performance in training or how well they match up against Portugal:
“It’s going to based on a little of both and who we feel is in form. Funny things happen with players. Over the next two weeks, we can have some players that look really sharp and are really coming into form, and they would be given strong consideration to play. Everyone that’s on our roster is on our roster because we think they can help us.  If we see that particular players look like they’re really moving forward or are in great form, they’re going to going to have an edge to get in the starting lineup. Naturally, we have some consideration for our opponent, but for the most part, I think a lot of our guys are still in the mix in terms of being in the starting eleven.”

On any players that surprised him over the last three weeks:
“I’m not surprised by our goalkeepers. We certainly expected them to play well and they did. I think our young players did extremely well -- Donovan and Beasley. I think Mastroeni showed that he’s capable of playing. I think that some of our backs did well. In particular, I think Hejduk was a pleasant surprise to me. Overall, I was pleased. I think we have a pretty solid roster as we take off for Korea.”

On who might be favored to win the 2002 World Cup:
“France and Argentina appear to be the favorites going in. (As for) dark horses, I don’t think any of us know that. There are obviously the traditional powers that will be there and will be heard, such as Italy, Germany and Brazil. Who knows? If you asked me right now to name the groups, I’m not sure I could. I haven’t paid attention to anything else. My only focus has been on the U.S. team and the teams in our group. I’m basically pretty ignorant to anything else that’s going on. Clearly, I’m aware of the fact that this team from France is pretty good, and so is the team from Argentina, but I haven’t spent a lot of time and energy on anything else. In terms of Portugal, clearly they enter the World Cup, and in particular, our group, as being the most balanced attacking team. They have a lot of outstanding players.“

On if he plans on making any formation changes over the next two weeks:
“For the most part, we’ll continue to do what we’ve done. We can make minor adjustments that don’t disrupt the team. We’ll be prepared for that. For the most part, we are who we are. We’re not going to be radically different once June 5 comes around. But there could be subtle changes in each and every game.”

On his impressions of the recent South Korea-England match that ended in a 1-1 draw:
“Well, I only watched the first half. I think it’s important to understand that you can’t take much from a game like that. I think that Korea did put more into the game than England. England has a mixed lineup. I think I saw they made seven changes at half. Korea continues to show us what we’ve seen out of Korea since last December – the kind of style that they’re going to play. They’re kinda set on their lineup now. We’ve followed them pretty closely. I think one advantage we have, and maybe they have, is that we’ve been on the field with their team, their players, their style of play, and we’re going to be a little bit different when we face them on June 10. They’re going to be a hard team to beat. They’re a very difficult team. They literally get 7-8-9 players behind the ball real quick, and they’re tough to break down. They’re extremely fit and they come at you hard for 90 minutes. They still are not a team that’s that dangerous going forward, but I’m sure what they’re trying to do is get one win and possibly two draws.”

On how U.S. defender Pablo Mastroeni might fit in with the U.S. World Cup Team:
“Well, I don’t think he’s going to be at left back, as a starting point. He’s probably best suited to play in the defensive midfield position for us.”

On how the 1998 World Cup Team may have unraveled:
“First of all, I have not commented a whole lot about 1998.  I think the reason for that is when you are a coach of a team and you have the coaches and players together, you are the only ones that know what that specific team is about.  People outside, the press or the fans, don’t understand the strengths and weaknesses on a team, so you can’t make that judgement from a distance.  That is basically the stand I have taken on it.  Obviously, there were things that were wrong, they didn’t play well on and off the field.  The approach we have taken is not that we are going to a have a magical formula when we head over to Korea.  This has been a process over three and a half years to make sure that we were a team, we did things as a team and we put the team first.  Players have responsibilities and it will continue to carry over into the World Cup going to Korea.  We are what we are and it isn’t a process that has happened overnight.”

On how the loss of U.S. defender Chris Armas affects the midfield, tactically or with regard to alignment:
“All of the things you’re saying, I say yes, they’re all factors we’ve considered. But I think the way we’re playing the first game, we would’ve played that way whether Chris was in the lineup or not. Does it you maybe move some people to other spots? Yeah. You have to replace a player that we had picked to be on the field. It moves another player in the lineup. It maybe changes a couple people positionally, but it doesn’t really change our approach on how we ought to play, how we’re going to play Portugal or how we think we’re best-suited to play.”

On if Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley are, in a sense, auditioning for European teams during the World Cup:
“First of all, I’m not sure if your word ‘audition’ is correct. Landon Donovan is playing in MLS for San Jose throughout this year, and we know that he’s property of Bayer Leverkusen, so there’s no real audition there. His future is clearly established. DaMarcus Beasley’s under a long-term contract with MLS. But they’re just like any players on the 32 teams. There are approximately 400-500 players that are showcased at a World Cup.  I think if they all go to a World Cup with that kind focus, thinking about a big transfer or what’s going to happen ahead, they’re not going to be successful. Our guys, especially when you’re 20 years old, you should be focusing on the task at hand. I believe that’s what we’re trying to accomplish with those two guys, and I believe that will be the case.”

On the strengths and weaknesses of U.S. defender/midfielder Pablo Mastroeni:
“(He’s a) pretty good ball winner with strength on a defensive side of the ball.  He generally knows when to distribute the ball to the right guy when needed.  What he brings to the team isn’t just those qualities on the field, but off the field he is one of our most popular players.  I think that means a lot when you have 23 guys coming together and spending a lot time together around training, hotels. He brings a great spirit to the team.”

On if he or the U.S. team has any concerns with the security at the 2002 World Cup:
“No, we’re pretty comfortable with all of the security. We had the opportunity to visit Korea in December, and we were very impressed with the security and understand that it will be even better this time around. We’re going to be very comfortable.”

On if U.S. players’ development is better served playing in MLS or in Europe:
“There isn’t a clean answer. Meaning that DaMarcus Beasley has benefited tremendously from MLS. If he were overseas perhaps he wouldn’t have had the same opportunities that he had in MLS.  But then we saw Landon Donovan go to Germany a little too early at an environment that wasn’t best suited for him at that time to help in his development, but coming back to MLS he has benefited.  Certainly, in those two examples you can not say going overseas would have been better than MLS was.  Claudio Reyna went over to Europe when he was 21 years old and you can see that today he has blossomed into an outstanding player.  So it is a little of both and each player you have to look at on an individual basis and try to come up with a right determination, so there isn’t a rule of thumb that either environment would be better for all players.”

On how important getting to the second round is to the state of soccer in the U.S.:
“We didn’t fall off the face of the Earth. That’s why we’re still around. We had to do a little bit of reconstruction in the whole program. I think, as you can see, there’s excitement and there’s attention now for our team as we go to the World Cup. We are in the media, which is not typical for the sport in this country. As we mentioned previously, we have a player on the cover of Sports Illustrated today. We’re getting great coverage by our national
newspapers such as USA Today, Washington Post and others. I think we’re in a lot of the smaller markets as well, and we’re getting a little bit of recognition on television. I think that’s a real shot in the arm for the sport. If we continue to move forward and advance to the second round, for me, that’s another week of media attention for our sport, which we desperately need. I think it’s a tremendous benefit if we’re able to do that. It’ll give us momentum as we move forward. It’ll help MLS, which I think is critical. It’ll continue to help what we’re trying to do with our national team program. So I think it would be tremendous if we could move forward into the second round. Having said that, if we don’t, and we still show well and show improvement, it’ll be positive for the sport in this country.”

On specific media attention that has surprised him:
“Just as we move around, I think the World Cup gets people excited. In markets where you would think people don’t know about you, such as Birmingham, they gave us great time and attention. In Seattle, without having had a first division club there in a while, you see the response. As we go all over the country, we see it. Hopefully, as we continue to go forward and have a good showing in the World Cup, that helps MLS as well and puts the sport in a favorable position in this country.”

On if he’s spoken to 1998 U.S. World Cup coach Steve Sampson recently:
“Yeah, I’ve spoken to Steve. He’s been willing to offer any kind of advice that we may request of him. He’s been very gracious in giving me some input. He supports this team. There’s no question about it in my mind.”

On how well youth is being served within the U.S. World Cup team:
“Keep in mind that 25 years old is not young in the world of soccer, so I don’t call them young.  I call Beasley and Donovan young, but Wolff and Mathis are of similar age with some other players that will be competing in other countries during the World Cup.  Most of the teams at the World Cup will have an average age of about 26, so they are obviously not young by standards around the world.  Having said that, Beasley, Donovan, Wolff and Mathis have shown over the last year that their play will be able to help us and we are going to count on them on getting us goals in this World Cup.”

On how much will be expected of U.S. team captain and midfielder Claudio Reyna:
“I don’t think we’re going to ask him to do too much, but we’re going to ask him to step up and be the player he’s capable of being. Where we position him will depend on our players but on our opponent. Claudio is a good player, and I think this is Claudio’s World Cup to show that. He won’t be asked to stop the other team from scoring and to score our goals. I’m not asking him to do everything, but we’re asking him to be a quality midfielder during this World Cup, and he’s certainly capable of demonstrating that.”

On the starting goalkeeper position and if it will come down to a hunch:
“I guess that’s the case. If you told me to name the goalkeeper right now, I couldn’t do it. I have two weeks to get that sorted out. I think that whatever decision I make is a good one. Don’t get me wrong on that. We’ll look at them in camp over the next couple of weeks and continue to see who we think is in form. The problem I always have with that is that they’re always in form. We’re going to have to make a decision, and perhaps it will based on a hunch.”

On the injuries to Keller and Mathis suffered during the “Nike Road to Korea”:
“Keller is fine.  My read on Mathis in the Holland game is that he should not have played, but he is going to be fine.  Every day that injury on Mathis gets better and better, so I would except that he would be fine by the time we leave for Korea on Thursday.  With Keller there is no problem and he recovered really quickly from that knee bump.“

On if, as a coach, he needs to manage the excitement of the players as the World Cup approaches:
“I think you just read the situation. There’s no rule of thumb on how a coach gets a team ready for a game. I think the only thing we need to worry about is are they ready to play. Perhaps we need to calm them down a little bit, but I think one advantage we have is that we have a pretty experienced team. We have some young players, but these guys have played in a lot of World Cups. I think they’re still going to be very excited and their juices are going to be flowing and all, but I think they’re going to be in better position for this World Cup than others.”

On if the goalkeeping decision is better made earlier rather than later for psychological reasons:
“There probably is a little bit. We just have to read the situation. I think our team is solely prepared at this point. Anything we do now is not going to impact them drastically. I think they’re mentally prepared for anything that happens. I think that the goalkeepers are fully understanding of the situation they’re in, as far as who’s going to play and who won’t be. I think both goalkeepers are prepared to play come June 5. And if they’re not the number one ‘keeper on June 5, they’ll be ready for the next game. I think we’ve made a lot of headway over the last six months with the goalkeeping situation. I don’t think anything that happens is going to throw things out of balance. These aren’t little kids we’re dealing with. As I’ve said, we’ve been through this in the past. I don’t do anything to impact any of our players’ ability to perform when they step on the field. I’ll make a judgement that I think makes sense for the goalkeepers at the right time. Who it is, I can’t tell you that right now, but I’ll have a sense for that when we get closer to the opening game.”

On the decision to be located in downtown Seoul rather than a more isolated location for the World Cup:
“First of all, being located in Seoul is good for us, given that the first game is basically in Seoul against Portugal, so we have a short little bus ride. We have an outstanding training facility. We can use Seoul as a means of getting to our other two venues rather quickly, so Seoul made sense. If you know anything about our players, our players don’t have the makeup to be isolated and alone throughout. I think, from my personal perspective, Americans are very bright. They know how to focus when it’s necessary. They also take advantage of their free time. I want our guys to be able to get away from soccer, to get away from the pressure of the World Cup and enjoy the city and enjoy their families during a very important part of their careers and just come back to the States with a great experience of having been to the World Cup. I think our players have the right mentality and makeup to accomplish both. Allowing them the freedom to get out in the city and enjoy the World Cup will only benefit them on the field.”

On the overall state of soccer heading into the 2002 World Cup:
“I think that when we continue to get better as a soccer playing country, the World Cup will get more interest in this country.  Soccer will continue to have a big chunk of the sports pie in this country.  We are not naïve enough to believe we are going to replace the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball, but there’s no doubt in my mind that soccer will continue to have a name in the sports entertainment industry in this country.  I think that MLS will continue to move forward and expand as they become very valuable professional league in this country.”

Closing comments:
“I’d just like to close and thank everyone for being on the call today. We appreciate the great response and coverage that our team has received over the last couple of months and really throughout the year. We’re appreciative of your time and efforts. For those of you that cannot travel over to Asia, we can only hope that you enjoy the World Cup and have a lot of coffee in your household for the games. The people travelling over, we’re very appreciative of that. I can only tell you that this U.S. team is going to lay it on the line each and every game. We’re very excited and look forward to the challenge. Once again, thank you for all your support.”