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Quotes from the U.S. National Team World Cup Roster Announcement

CHICAGO (Monday, April 22, 2002) - Following are quotes from U.S. Men's National Team head coach Bruce Arena after he named the team's 23-man roster for the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan this summer. Comments from forward Clint Mathis, selected to his first World Cup roster, follow.

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

On the 10 alternates named to the squad: “As you are probably well aware, we announced the 23-man roster earlier this evening on ESPN SportsCenter.  One item I would like to include is our 10 alternates who were not announced (on SportsCenter) this evening. I think they could be key figures in our World Cup run as well, so I would like to give them their due.  We have two goalkeepers as alternates: Tim Howard and Zach Thornton. As defenders we have Steve Cherundolo, Greg Vanney and Richard Mulrooney.  In midfield: Richie Williams, Brian Maisonneuve and Brian West. At forward we have Jovan Kirovski, Ante Razov.  Those ten alternates will be prepared to step in if we struggle with injuries or have any other problems in the next 3-4 weeks.”

On the extent that age is a factor on the World Cup roster: “I think if you refer to 1990, we’ve got slightly older. After the last four World Cups we need to understand that we are still a developing country. I think at the next World Cup you’ll see a drastically younger team than this. You’ve got a guy like Jeff Agoos who is 34 years old and our goalkeepers, (Kasey) Keller and (Brad) Friedel, who are both over 30. But then you’ve got (midfielder DaMarcus) Beasley and (midfielder / forward Landon) Donovan, who are both 20 years old. I don’t think it’s so bad to have our average age at 29. Hopefully the previous experience is going to be a factor. That’s why there are so many veterans on the team.”

On whether the team was picked specifically to play against Portugal, Korea, Poland: “This is a team we have put together that I think gives us the best opportunity to be successful and place the best team we can have on the field on June 5.  We took very little into account in regards to the qualities of Portugal, Korea and Poland.  We took into account our own team. The areas we think we have strengths in and weaknesses in, and we tried to make up some of those voids in the final selection.”

On how he notified the players if they had been included in the 23-player roster: “I only spoke with one player today to let him know that he was on the roster. We spent some time over the weekend talking to the players that were not making the roster. But I did have a chance to speak with one of our young guys in DaMarcus Beasley, and obviously he was very excited.”

On how it felt to tell a young player like DaMarcus Beasley: “I spent a lot of time talking to the players that didn’t make the team. I talked to him via email this weekend. He’s the only player I believe I told that to. As I mentioned, I told DaMarcus that he made the team, and he was elated and looking forward to helping us in any way he can. He’s an option late in the game. I don’t anticipate him being in our starting 11. The way we can use him is late in the game. Those qualities of quickness and speed are important late in the game and were a factor in making that decision.”

On the hardest part of selection: “To a certain degree it was easy, and then at the end it gets real difficult. The alternates I mentioned all had a legitimate cause to be part of the roster, and it was difficult.  At the end we looked a little at the experience, when we felt it was necessary, and speed to compliment the roster.  Those issues at the end got difficult, I think the first 16-18 are not difficult but filling in the the last 5-7 were, and I think we really need the right people to compliment some of our weaknesses, as well as people who I think will do the things necessary to have the right kind of team spirit as we move forward to June 5.”

On who will be the starter in goal for the three “Nike Road To Korea” games: “I have not decided on how we will play the three games at this point. I’m going to use our camp to decide that. The bottom line is that it’s like splitting hairs between Friedel and Keller. Meola knows his role as the third keeper. But obviously, the decision will be between Friedel and Keller.”

On if Tim Howard’s inexperience was the main factor in his exclusion from the roster: “Yes, I think that’s correct. I also believe that Tim will benefit a lot over the next few months playing games. His development will improve if he’s playing games in MLS as opposed to watching Friedel and Keller in the World Cup.”

On how many players will be available for the camp in Cary, N.C.: “Right now, I’m comfortable that 19 of 23 players will be available when players report on April 30.  We will likely have 3-4 players who are not yet able to report.  Likely candidates for that are (Claudio) Reyna, (Tony) Sanneh, (John) O’Brien and (David) Regis. John O’Brien still has games left in the Dutch league and then the Dutch Cup Final.  Sanneh, Reyna and Regis are fighting relegation battles at the moment.”

On the inclusion of Pablo Mastroeni: “All things being equal, I felt that Pablo deserved to be on the roster, really because he’s done so well for us in 2002.  It validates the process. For Pablo to go through the 7-8 games he’s played for us this year and for him not to be recognized for his efforts would be wrong. He’s got some good quickness, he’s good on the ball, plus he can play a variety of positions. He can play left back, he can play center back and he can play holding midfielder.  So his versatility is key.”

On Mastroeni as the only player who did not play in Qualifying: “Anyone on this 23 man roster has to be prepared to play. I think we put him in enough situations, with the Gold Cup and other friendlies to demonstrate to us that if called upon he is a guy we can count on.”

What areas need to be stronger for the U.S: “There are a number of areas we need to work on. We want to make sure that come June 5 the team is as fit as possible.  At the same time we have players coming off a long difficult season, so we have to balance that. We need to be better as a team on the defensive end of the field.  We have to do a better job of getting our back four sorted out and getting our midfield shape.  Lastly, besides doing a better job attacking and defending restarts, we need to be better going forward and being a little but more dangerous. These are things I think we are capable of getting better in the next month.  We have capable people in every position, and I firmly believe that spending some time together we will get better in the areas I just mentioned.”
On the sentimentality of going to a World Cup with players he used to coach in college: “I haven’t thought about it on the sentimental end. Now that I’m thinking about the guys … I guess you’ve got Agoos and Meola and Claudio Reyna. I do recall when I had Tony as a second-year player at the University of Virginia, and he was heading off to World Cup qualifying at that age and all. Obviously I never thought that 12-13-14 years later that Tony would be part of a World Cup roster. Jeff and Claudio and Tony have done quite well since they left me. I don’t make roster selections on whether they played for me in college or for D.C. United. I came into this with one simple thought - 'Will they help us?'”

On whether he’s looking to see more of forwards Clint Mathis and Brian McBride paired up top: “Most definitely. They’ve had I believe just two games together—Honduras (a 4-0 win in Seattle, Wash., on March 2) and Ireland (a 2-1 loss in Dublin on April 17). And we’ll get the opportunity to see them in training and hopefully in two or three of the games in May.”

On Landon Donovan and his role on the team: “At this point we have not established a starting eleven, but Landon (Donovan) is a player that can play up front as one of our two forwards or underneath our two forwards.  Additionally he has played out wide and has done well there.  One of the big reasons Landon is on this roster is not only because of his talent and his good showing over the past year, but it’s also that he can play in a number of positions.  As we continue to move forward in the month of May, we will look at Landon in a couple of spots and see how he can best help us when our full team is together.”

On whether Hejduk’s inclusion was an effort to improve the overall speed of the defense: “Whoever thinks of our back line is slow is mistaken. I think (Tony) Sanneh and (Eddie) Pope don’t lose too many foot races. And Agoos and (Gregg) Berhalter may not be speedsters, but they position themselves well. I don’t think our back line is labeled as one that doesn’t have good speed. But part of the reason I selected him is that he’s one of the few players in ‘98 that walked away from the World Cup feeling that he had done well. Lastly, he’s a guy that will fit in with the team as far as team spirit.”

On Carlos Llamosa: “Carlos (Llamosa) has proven that he is one our best pure defenders. He has a passion to defend, is a good one-on-one defender. He positions himself well off the ball, and he has a lot of experience and is composed, so he is a guy we can count on in almost any game. He has had a little bit of an issue with injuries as of late, but we think he is going to be fine.  He’s had a good showing over the last three years so I think he earned his position on the roster.”

On why Llamosa was not selected for the recent friendlies in Europe: “It was based on the fact that we had a number of European defenders that we wanted to look at, plus we wanted to give Eddie Pope a run in those games, and Eddie has missed a number of games in the last couple of years.  So that is really the reason Llamosa was not chosen.”

On when he was finally set on the 23-player World Cup roster:
“To be honest, I’ve been scratching names on a pad since we qualified in October. We didn’t really deviate too much from our original list. As I said earlier, the last 5-7 names were difficult. It wasn’t easy, but as we continued to move forward through the winter and spring, …. I finalized it around 10 a.m. today. But certainly we have thought of this 23-man roster for some time.”

On Cherundolo’s and Kirovski’s absence from the 23-man roster: "It was simply a numbers game.  Steve (Cherundolo) was close, but in the end his inexperience was a factor.  On the other end, you have Jovan (Kirovski) who is a guy with a lot of experience.  They are both good players and that is why they are still a part of our group and being named alternates.  With Jovan, where we are with this roster is that we were only going to take four pure forwards, and Landon can play both as a forward and a midfielder, and that in the end pushed Jovan off the roster.”

On the strengths of U.S. forward Joe-Max Moore: “He’s also a kind of guy that you want when you go to war. If you’re going to war, the first name I’d (want to) pick out of a hat is Joe-Max. He’s an experienced guy, he’s confident, and he’s got a real good attitude.”

On how far the U.S. has come and how far we have to go as a soccer nation: “If everyone aspires to win a World Cup, we have a long way to go. But we have come a long way. If you compare this team to the 1990 team, there’s no comparison. If you compare this team to ‘94 and ‘98, I feel this is a much better team top to bottom. It’s possible that one day we’ll be in a position to win a World Cup.”

On what areas in which he would like to improve the roster to be able to challenge for a World Cup: "That’s everywhere. That would mean you’d need the best forwards, the best midfielders, the best defenders. Take a team like France, they’re leaving players home that could make our team. We need to improve the depth and the quality.”

On Gregg Berhalter’s role: “He fits in as a center back.  I think that his best position, without a doubt.  He’s not a player who plays particularly well out wide.  He has great qualities as a center back. He’s a good leader, he’s a a very aggressive defender, outstanding in the air and a good passer of the ball. Those are the qualities that Gregg brings to the backline, and certainly in May he will have opportunity to challenge for a starting position.”

On Gregg Berhalter’s development: “Over the last couple of years he has developed quite well.  I remember him from high school, from college and the early goings of his professional career.   I think his experience in Holland was very good for him, and he gained invaluable experience, as well, in England.  I think he continues to move forward as a player.  My only concern with Gregg (Berhalter) right now is that he has had a number of nagging injuries over the last six months that we need to get sorted out in camp.  If he’s healthy he is going to help us.”

On the role Cobi Jones might play in the World Cup: “I don’t think his role is defined yet. Likely he will be a player coming off the bench, as Eddie Lewis would be in that case. We define him as a midfielder and a player that plays out on the touch line. Whether that means he’s in our first eleven, or he’s one that comes off the bench as a reserve will remain to be seen.”

On former U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Bob Gansler saying that after the top 16-18 players, the final 5-7 players are chosen more for chemistry: “That’s part of it. I wouldn’t in principle argue that ... You don’t know how long you’re going to be in the tournament. It could be three games, it could be six games. In our case, a lot of our players are all pretty close in their quality. I’m not going to go with 17 or 18 players and be set. In principle I understand what Bob’s saying.”

On the development of Donovan and Beasley over the last two years: “I just think that those two players, two years ago, you’d say I don’t think so (that they’ll make the team). A year ago, we’d say that the possibility is there. Whether it’s a great surprise or not? I think it’s a great story, like with Chris Armas and the way he started out. Same thing with Pablo, a citizen as of the middle of last year. There are some pretty interesting stories there, like Meola’s return to the National Team. If you want to call that a surprise, then you could.”

On why he named his squad this early: “In the month of May we are going to be one of the only professional leagues in the world playing.  In order to bring our team together, we needed to do this in advance.  We couldn’t just randomly take 25 players out of MLS for three weeks in May.  Bringing a team together is important, and being able to train for an extended period of time is important.  It takes a lot of preparation and planning to pull this off.  By announcing our group today we can get them ready for camp that begins May 1, and it will help us move forward.  If anything comes along where we have issues or problems and we have to make replacements, we have already established a group of players that should be mentally and physically prepared to step up and replace someone if needed at the last minute.”

On Brian McBride: “That still needs to be established, but certainly he is one of our four forwards. But he has different qualities than our other players. McBride is a little more of a target player, good in the air, good physical qualities and has a track record for scoring goals.  He brings a lot of good qualities to our team, is able to hold the ball and bring his teammates into the game, and that sets him apart from our other forwards.  In the end I’m not certain of the right combination we will go with on June 5, but we have six weeks to find out.”

On McBride scoring in the 1998 World Cup in France: “Brian scored a goal in a World Cup, and there aren’t that many players that have done that. That is something that will help Brian through these difficult games.”

On whether changes can still be made to the 23-man roster: “I guess anything is possible, but that is not anticipated.  If everyone remains healthy and there are no issues, this should be our 23-man roster.  But if you have followed soccer around the world over the past few weeks, you never know what is going to happen. This roster was not put together with the thought of making any changes over the next couple of weeks.”

On picking players who aren’t playing regularly, namely Hejduk and Lewis: “Keep in mind that both Hejduk and Lewis have played probably seven or eight games with us this year, so we’ve seen them and compared them with the players we have, and they still rank up there.  Frankie is playing with arguably one of the top 5 to 10 club teams in the world, and although he hasn’t played games, I think he’s probably getting experiences in training and being a part of that environment.  When we brought him into the Gold Cup he didn’t start very well, but he got better every game, and the same thing with Eddie Lewis. That told me that if we get these guys around our group over an extended period of time, they are going to get better and put themselves in a position to be able to help us. As we moved along in the spring, they were put in a position to help us, and I think they were the best choices given the alternatives out there.”

On the team spirit surrounding the current squad: “From what I’ve seen in the last three and a half years or so, they are a group that gets along quite well. The team spirit is quite good, they get along on and off the field. They showed a lot of character in qualifying when our backs were to the wall in game nine when we had to beat Jamaica to get through, so they’ve been in some tough times together. We saw them  - the MLS group - respond this year in the Gold Cup when they rallied as a group and got better each and every game.  And although we weren’t successful in the three games in Europe, I think we got a lot out of it as a group. Our guys stuck together, and those are good experiences we are going to learn from. It only tells me that when we get to the pressure of the World Cup and maybe things aren’t going well, they aren’t going to bail out on each other. They are going to stick their noses to the ground and battle and grind it out. I think whether they are successful or not remains to be seen, but I think they are going to represent us quite well and be a team that is going to be a handful to play against each and every game.”

On if he could change the formation the U.S. employs: “We aren’t adamant about the fact that we are going to play a 4-4-2 each and every game. We aren’t adamant about the way our midfield shape is going to appear, we can be flexible. We have experienced players; they’ve played with 3 in the back, 4 in the back. We’ll likely put 11 players on the field and see how that works.”

CLINT MATHIS, U.S. Men's National Team forward

On his selection to the final World Cup roster: “I’m very honored to be able to represent my country for an event like the World Cup. It’s been a long road, especially a year ago tearing my ACL, but Bruce and Dave Sarachan gave me an opportunity to get back and play games. That was definitely a help in my recovery to get my confidence back and know that I can get back to play at this level. Hopefully we go there and have a good showing.”

On how it felt to finally be selected for the World Cup roster after a major injury in 2001: “First off, I don’t think that I ever count my chickens before they hatch. This is a dream come true. From what happened just in the last year with my injury, I don’t think that it could’ve been a better story.”

On what it’s like to team up with Brian McBride as an attacking duo: “Like Bruce said, Brian is a little bit different as far as comparing him to myself. Me and Brian haven’t got a chance to play together too much. We have had injuries at separate times. We played a little bit against Ireland. Brian’s a great player for me, running off him and chasing down balls. Holding the ball. I definitely look forward to playing with him in the World Cup.”