U.S. Men's National Team Manager Bruce Arena addressed the media in a teleconference call on Tuesday, Dec. 6, after learning which teams will be seeded for the World Cup Final Draw on Friday, Dec. 9, in Leipzig, Germany. The draw will be broadcast live at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2 as well as on ussoccer.com's DrawTracker.
“Good morning or good afternoon depending on where you’re calling from. Thanks for coming on today. The draw today, in terms of the seeds, is pretty much what I expected, no surprises and I think it’s fairly obvious from the draw that the chances of the U.S. team being grouped with two European countries or possibly two South American countries exists and we simply look forward to the draw on Friday. However, I’ve thought all along that the draw is going to be difficult. As I’ve said over the last couple weeks, the field is extremely strong. There’s not a weak sister among these 32 teams so I think it will be a fantastic draw on Friday and a great World Cup.”
On whether it made a difference in the formulas used that the U.S. can’t play an Asian team but can face an African team:
“It doesn’t matter, not particularly. Obviously, the one pot is all European and between the next two pots they had to combine, somehow, the CONCACAF teams, the Asian teams and the Africans teams, and that’s how they decided to do it. I have no issues with that, that’s fine.”
On whether he thinks of the different permutations of the teams the U.S. can be drawn against:
“I don’t think that there’s a weak team and I don’t worry about the different permutations. Just on your Australia comment: I was, obviously, misinterpreted. I think Australia is a very good team and the comment I made this week is the fact that their entire team plays in Europe. They have a very strong team although they were the last team to qualify, as was Trinidad. My previous comment on those two teams implied that this is a very, very strong field of 32 teams, in fact, considerably stronger than what we saw in 2002.”
On whether he was disappointed at not being seeded:
“I didn’t think the U.S. or Mexico would get seeded. However, when you look at the criteria they used, fair enough. Anytime you look back a number of years, it’s never going to favor the U.S. Our success in soccer is only recent. I don’t believe in tournaments you look at histories because it’s not relevant: 1998 is not relevant to 2006. However, that’s part of the formula. Certainly that strengthens other countries as opposed to the U.S. If we have to include 1998 in the equation, we’re never gonna come out looking that strong. Fair enough. I think it’s still better criteria than previous ones when, I understand, they factored in the past three World Cups. As we move forward, the U.S. is only going to improve it’s position for future World Cup draws.”
On the players he’s bringing into camp in January:
“We’re going to announce that roster, I would think, sometime next week. That simply is a camp for domestic players. We’ll have one player from overseas at the camp. It’s really to get our domestic players into playing soccer again and caught up, hopefully, a little more to our European-based players so we position our pool of domestic players to a point where they can try to get on the World Cup roster. We need to move them along quickly, so we have four scheduled friendlies in January and February and hopefully we’ll have players moving along to where they need be to in order to be part of our World Cup roster.”
On how he will scout the other 31 countries:
“We’re only going to be scouting three countries. We’ve already eliminated eight of them, we know that because eight countries are not going to be playing in the first phase. Simply, the most important country to really scout is the country that plays in the opening game against us. Games two and three we can obviously look at their first games in the World Cup competition. However, games one and two are more critical in terms of scouting than game three. And, obviously, game one is the most important one to be scouting during the spring.
“We will know on Friday the three teams we will be playing next June and those are the teams we focus on. We have no idea who we’re playing after that, if we’re still in the tournament. If we are, we can look at their first three games in group play. What teams do in 2005 really has nothing to do with how they play in 2006 and the World Cup, so our complete focus after games one and two is really on how teams perform at the World Cup.”
On what kind of teams the U.S. would prefer to play against:
“I don’t really care. Whatever the draw brings, that’s fine with us. It’s the World Cup. It’s going to be difficult no matter who you play. The chances are likely that it’ll be two European countries from the fact that, I believe, five of the eight seeded teams are from Europe. It’s likely that we’ll have two teams from Europe and I’m not going to worry about it one way or another.”
On whether the field is stronger this year because of the strength of the European teams:
“I don’t think they’re much different. I think the Asian countries are more experienced as well as the African countries from the last time around. And then, obviously, the seeds are very strong. Remember last time, too, the seeds were Japan and South Korea, so, obviously, the seeds, one would think are stronger this time as well.”
On whether the European teams will be less surprised by the competition since the World Cup is in Europe:
“If you’re implying that because the World Cup was in Asia last year that the European countries didn’t prepare as well, I think that’s completely wrong. I think, first of all, give us credit for doing well the last time around. And, secondly, as I said, it’s just going to be difficult. There’s no other way to look at it and obviously we have a great challenge ahead. But the European countries are as good this time as they were the last time around. I also think that the field, just generally, appears much stronger to me. That’s one person’s opinion. I could be proved wrong next June, but I think it’s a fantastic field.”
On how much more prepared the U.S. is for this World Cup than the last one and whether things will change:
“I think the advantage that we have, as a staff and as an organization, is that we’ve been through a fairly successful World Cup and apply it to this time around. I think I’ve learned a few lessons in terms of our roster that I think I can strengthen this time around, as well. However, I think looking back, I’d only make perhaps one or two changes from the last time around, but those one or two changes could make a difference this time around. Experience certainly should help us. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to enable us to step on the field and win games, but I think we’ll try to leave no stones unturned and do as thorough job as possible in preparing our team so we can hopefully get out of the first round of play.
“I think we hit a home run last time in terms of how we needed to prepare the team. I think we’re going to try to come as close to that as possible. Obviously, a big factor this time is the draw on Friday. It’s going to tell us not only who we play, but when we play. Last time we benefited from being, I believe, the last game in the first round of group play or the next to last game, so we had a little bit more time to see what was happening in the early going of the World Cup. Will we be able to benefit from that again this time, who knows? We could get drawn into the opening game, so we just have to wait and see.”
On whether it matters where the U.S. is drawn and whether they were seeded or not:
“In theory, the seeding helps you a little bit, you would think. But as difficult as you think it looked last time around, I think it’s going to look a heck of a lot worse this time around. I think we’re going to see the U.S. drawn in with, likely, two European countries and the fourth country drawn in out of Pot Two is going to be a good one. I think it’s going to look very challenging and it will be very challenging.
On whether the USA’s group will be the “Group of Death” because of the high ranking and almost being seeded:
“I don’t know how to answer that. Obviously any group we’re going to be in I think is going to be a tough group. However when you look at whatever team that gets to draw in Germany’s group I think you’re going to say it is a very difficult group because it’s the home country. Anyone drawn into Brazil’s group, you’re going to have the same comments. And, certainly the rest are European countries. I’ve said this a number of times already on this call. Not only do I think this is an extremely deep pool of 32 teams, I think, because of that, the balance is going to be tremendous throughout the groups. I think you’re going to see, in the end, when the dust settles, you’re going to look at the groups and say, ‘Boy, this is going to be real tough.’ I honestly believe that. So whoever we’re drawn with, I’m fine with, because I think each and every group is going to be very well balanced and very difficult.”
On whether there are any kinds of teams he’d like to avoid:
“You look at the top eight seeds, they’re all countries that are blessed with a lot of good attacking players. Certainly, that’s going to be part of the factor. I think, my preference would be to hopefully play somebody with a little less experience, but you never know. I sound like broken record. I don’t think any group is going to be easy and at the end of the day, I don’t have a preference one way or another.”
On choosing Hamburg before the draw:
“We had the ability to get into Hamburg at a good hotel, good training facility, a nice city. I think, it’s a venue that will work great for our team. The travel throughout Germany for the World Cup is going to be fairly easy. It’s not that big a country. If we fly, we’ll have charter flights. If we have to go by rail or bus, it’s fairly easy, I don’t think travel is a factor. The most important objective we had in securing a facility or a venue early is simply choosing something that works for our team, and I think we were able to do that in Hamburg.”
On the U.S. not having to worry about the teams they will not be playing, specifically the Asian teams:
“Again, I think it’s irrelevant. Everybody knew they were going be drawn with a European country so it was just simply a question of who you’re going to be matched up next with, whether it was going to be an African country or a South American country. In this particular situation, that’s what it really came down to. I don’t think it’s that critical one way or another. I’m much more familiar with South Korea and Japan than I am with Iran or Saudi Arabia or Serbia, and I know we’ve had tough times with South Korea and Japan, so, I guess, in a way, it’s nice not to be facing them. However, at the end of the day, we’re going to have a tough team, regardless.”
On whether it hurts that Mexico was seeded and not the U.S.:
“For one thing, it’s great that CONCACAF has gotten a country seeded. I think that only benefits our confederation down the road. All I said was, I thought, at the time, we’ve proved over the last four or five years to be, arguably, the top team in our confederation. However, other factors come into play in the seeding. That would put Mexico over the top and, fair enough. Give them credit. They had a good show in ’98. I think they advanced into the second round and they were in the second round in 2002 and that’s an important part of the criteria so, obviously, they’ve merited selection over the U.S.”
On whether the U.S. is at a disadvantage because it doesn’t have as many players abroad as other teams:
“I think you’re saying that because there’s a lot of Brazilians and Argentines in Europe that the European countries are more familiar with their players and perhaps the U.S. does not have the same advantage. Probably a little more than half of our team that makes the World Cup roster will be comprised of players playing in Europe, so we’re not unfamiliar with the Brazilian or Argentine players. At this point in our development, our players have been exposed to players from all over the world so, I don’t think we’re at a disadvantage.”
On whether having players in Europe helps players not be overwhelmed by playing two European teams in the first round:
“Let’s remember, the last two games we’ve played in Europe we’ve played against Scotland and Poland. Poland which is in the World Cup and we won. We played very well against European countries in the last World Cup: Portugal, maybe not Poland, but Germany as well. I think we’re well past that period where we’re intimated. We have enough experience and enough ability to feel confident about stepping on the field and playing against anybody.
On whether there’s any value in seeding any teams at all:
“In any kind of tournament there’s value in seeding. You don’t want the top countries in the world eliminating themselves in group play. I think the advantage of seeding is that hopefully by the end of the tournament, the strongest teams are still around. If you had a group of Germany, Brazil, Italy and France, that would be a little bit awkward.”
On whether 16 teams should be seeded instead of eight:
“That’s possible. But as difficult as it was to seed eight teams, the more teams you seed, the more problems that will exist. I think the current format, if you have a 32-team field, of seeding only eight is fair.
On preference in terms of toughness of the first match:
“I’d like to win the first game so whoever you can get me to play in the first game that will allow us to win is the team I want to play. The first game is important.”
On what it’s going to be like at the draw:
“I remember the last time we were very close to getting Brazil, which, naturally, I think most national team coaches don’t want to face. I think we were one slot from being drawn in with Brazil. That may be the case this time. In all honesty, I’ve been through it before. I think this time, and now having a pretty good understanding of what lies ahead, I think it’s going to be difficult. Any way the draw works out, I think we’re going be able to deal with and realize that there’s probably going to be eight so-called ‘Groups of Death’ so nobody is going to have an easy run at it.”
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