Preliminary WC Qualifying
December 5, 2003
Bruce Arena: Manager, U.S. Men's National Team
On the pitfalls of playing smaller countries:
"I think the pitfalls are losing. What we'll worry about is the U.S. team and make sure our players are prepared to play the game. The pitfalls are if you're not prepared to play, you step on the field and make a mistake early in the game, and it could be one of those days where you lose."
On if the team he plans to field will bet at full strength:
"I've never had a full strength team in the five years that I've been at U.S. Soccer. I don't anticipate that we will for I'll have a full strength team for this series either. We'll approach the match with the best team we can put together. We're looking at this match as a very serious matter. We're hopeful that we can place our best team on the field on June 13."
On the possible semi-final opponents (recorded #1):
"If you look at the teams that are higher seeded, if everybody is successful, you might predict that the next semi-final round would be the U.S., El Salvador, Jamaica and Panama. The last time around it was the U.S., Guatemala, Costa Rica and Barbados. So it's similar. I think if you look into the group with Honduras and Costa Rica and Canada and Guatemala, that looks to be a very difficult group and it could be perhaps labeled the so-called 'Group of Death' in the semi-final round. But that's still looking ahead, and again as I've said, we will certainly be focused and ready to play on June 13."
On what he knows about either Grenada or Guyana:
"In all fairness, I don't. We've never played against them, but we will have the opportunity to scout their games in February and March (Feb. 18 at Grenada and March 31 at Guyana). We're going to prepare for those countries like we prepare for anybody; treat them with the right respect and have our team prepared to play, and if we do that properly, I believe we'll be successful."
On what time and travel challenges the team might face with the increased number of total qualifying matches (18, up from 16 in 2002):
"First of all, with the exception of the June dates, and possibly a change in the opening game of the semi-final round, all of these games are played on international fixture dates. The only thing that is a bit awkward is that weekday games only permit 48-hour release. That could be a problem. In terms of travel, it's hard to predict because we don't know who we're playing yet at this point. But certainly in June we don't have any issues. With our European-based players, their club seasons end approximately May 15. With our players in MLS, we've generally had a very good relationship with the league and I don't anticipate any problems with our players being released in June. Once we start the semi-final competition, all those games are on international fixture dates."
On any surprises from the Draw today:
"Our region, for the general audience, I think is an awkward experience to actually look at that process at how hard it is to get our whole region in order. It was a little strange; I think people from around the world were a bit confused. For myself personally, I thought the European draw was fascinating. Automatically, if you look at that draw, you had to say 'Who's going to get caught with Holland?' Holland was taken out of a D pot and we all know that Holland is as good as any team in the world. If Holland ends up in a group where they're a second seed and Czech Republic is first, you have to believe that Holland is the favorite there. And there are other groups in Europe that are going to be very, very competitive. As you look forward, I think the competition in semifinal round the group with Guatemala, Costa Rica and potentially Honduras and Canada, is going to be a very challenging group. Those are very good teams and unfortunately, two of those team are not going to make it."
On if he thinks current San Jose Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop will be hired for the vacant position for Canada's Men's National Team:
"That's not my business to determine who Canada should hire. I just spent a couple of days with the Canadian delegation, and they're wonderful people. I think Frank Yallop is a fantastic coach. If that's the direction he chooses to go with his career, I think he'll do a great job. I think maybe the first time around is going to be difficult for him, but regardless of whether Canada can qualify for 2006 World Cup, if not I think that Frank will remain in that position and position Canada at least for the next World Cup. I think the world of Frank. I think he's a great coach and can do a great job. He would be a good choice for Canada."
On his biggest worries about playing a small nation like Grenada or Guyana:
"My biggest concern is our team. We need to make sure that we pay the right (amount of) attention to our opponents; give them their due respect and have our team prepared to play. If we're able to do that, I think we'll be successful in the preliminary round."
On not taking advantage of any of the international fixture dates to get the team together to prepare for 2004:
"We wore out our players and our clubs in the year after the World Cup with the Gold Cup competition and the Confederations Cup, and it was time to just back off and maintain solid relationships with those clubs. With the players in MLS, who did an outstanding job of cooperating with us, (we wanted to) allow them to have their players throughout the process of completing their regular season and the playoffs without any interference. With the European clubs, there's no need to bring players across the ocean for games that are essentially meaningless, in my opinion, games that we could not get the quality we needed and would help us move forward. The decision was simply made that we weren't going to do anything for the remainder of the year."
On if there might be any conflict with the participation of 21-year-old U.S. MNT and U-23 MNT stars Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley with both Olympic Qualifying and World Cup Qualifying in 2004:
"I would anticipate that Donovan and Beasley, if healthy, will be involved in the U-23 competition in Guadalajara (February 2-12, 2004). If we're successful and finish in the top two there, our team will qualify for the Olympics and be involved in the Olympics for basically the first two months of ours (semi-final round of qualifying). There would be a little bit of conflict, especially if we're playing our first game of the semi-final round on August 18. There's a potential conflict, but all we're doing is, first of all, letting our U-23 team get prepared properly and have the best opportunity possible to qualify for the Olympics. Once that occurs, we'll decide how we will juggle these players between the commitments they have with a few teams."
On the possibility of any of the current Uner-20 MNT players having the chance to be called into a full MNT camp in 2004:
"You're not trying to get me to say that Freddy Adu is going to play with us, are you? Obviously, all kidding aside, Bobby Convey is a player in our pool. After that, we will look at players as we move forward. I do want to say as a side not to our World Cup Qualifying news that it's a great accomplishment for our U-20 team (to win Group F and advance to the second round of the FIFA World Youth Championship in the United Arab Emirates). They were in a very difficult group. A world power was eliminated in Germany. Our guys finished on top of their group. I think (U-20 MNT head coach) Thomas Rongen did a fantastic job. Thomas did not have ample time to prepare this team for the championship because of various commitments his players had with MLS and their collegiate requirements. I think given what he had experienced over the six teams with the change in this competition, it's a great accomplishment for our team, so I do want to say that we're real proud of them. In terms of the players, Bobby Convey is a player that remains in the National Team mix. Obviously, I think Eddie Johnson has played well. I didn't see today's game because we had our draw at the same time. We know Freddy Adu is a kid with a lot of potential, and we're going to continue to track him and hopefully move him along properly and don't ask too much out of him in the early going as a professional. I think Ricardo Clark has played quite well. And the other players are good players, but their time will come. Whether they're ready for our team, I would say for the most part, no."
On if there's any chance that the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying will NOT come down to the last game to determine who will advance to Germany 2006:
"I don't believe so. I want to move our team to where we get into the semifinal round, then we get out of the semifinal round and then we're in the last group of six teams fighting for those three spots. Again, this is the second time around for me and I think I have a little bit more information than last time. I appreciate the support you reporters you gave me last time in constantly telling me that 13 points would get us through. I put my feet up when we got to 13, not realizing that that (situation) didn't hold any water. I think it's going to be difficult. I think all these countries are improving. I think the accomplishments that the CONCACAF teams had in the 2002 World has motivated everyone in the region. Therefore, I think that we're a target. The U.S. is a target, Costa Rica is, and so is Mexico. I have to believe that countries such as Honduras, Canada, Guatemala, El Salvador, Canada, etc., are going to be much better prepared and have much more resources this time around. I think it's going to be more difficult, and I wouldn't be surprised if everybody goes to the last day."