U.S. MNT Conference Call Quote Sheet Ahead of the USA's Upcoming World Cup Qualifying Matches
U.S. Manager Bruce Arena
"Before we discuss our upcoming games and roster I’d like to briefly comment on the statements that were attributed to me in the N.Y. Times article on September 28. I have to admit when I read the article I was truly disappointed in these statements because I believe they can certainly be construed as being very critical of both U.S. Soccer and the MLS. This was not the spirit nor the intent for which I participated in this interview.
I think many of you know I’ve worked in the sport of soccer for the last 30 years and I’ve tried real hard to try to make soccer more recognizable and respected in this country. And I have to admit at times the passion and commitment I have for the game tends to cloud my judgment and apparently destroy some of my brain cells as well. For this I apologize to the people I may have offended.
I want to be clear about this: I’m very proud and honored to be a part of U.S. Soccer and I’m indebted to the MLS for giving me the opportunity in coaching and three memorable years at D.C. United. Throughout my tenure with U.S. Soccer the organization has supported both the team and myself. And let me be clear about this: I support MLS. I think the league has done great things for the sport in our country. I’ve had the privilege to work with some of its owners - most notably Lamar Hunt Phil Anschutz and Bob Kraft. These are good people with great vision commitment and generosity for our sport.
Don Garber and his staff plus the coaches and players of MLS are truly dedicated to the game. I’ve said this many times - if we’re going to move forward and one day be a nation capable of winning the World Cup we’re going to be led by our professional league. I really believe that the future of the sport in this country is dependent upon MLS. Therefore I intend to do everything possible to help make it succeed. Therefore that is why I am disappointed for the way this article came out. I have no excuses for that and I just want to apologize to all parties concerned and I appreciate the minute I have to extend my apologies to everyone and thank you.
At this time I want to go directly into our thoughts on the roster and the games ahead. As all of you know we are now approaching crunch time in the semifinal round of qualifying. Game four in El Salvador is going to be extremely difficult. The games on the road are extremely challenging and once again we face a country that has a new coach. They announced the replacement of the previous coach two weeks ago. Certainly we anticipate a very different roster from the one we saw in Foxboro. This creates another challenge for us because we’ll step on the field knowing very little about our opponent. I believe that they’re going to be extremely well prepared and the game is going to be very difficult in a venue that’s difficult to play in. I think that at this point in time we have the experience to go in there and win. That’s certainly going to be our goal.
Then obviously we need to turn around real quick and head to (Washington) D.C. and play a Panama team that demonstrated to us that they’re a very good team and certainly capable of beating us. This is what it’s all about now. Our goal is to get six points. If we can get six points we’re going to be in a position we want to be in and likely into the next round. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s very difficult. I think many of you see the roster. There are 23 players a great group of players. I believe there is a great combination of experience and youth. I think 11 players come from abroad and 12 players are domestic players in MLS.
The one question mark you all may have is where is the captain Claudio Reyna. As of late yesterday afternoon it became apparent to us the injury that he suffered approximately 10 days ago in training with Manchester City was not coming around the way he felt it would. The decision was made that he would not be a likely candidate for any of our games. Therefore Claudio is staying in England and the roster we have is the roster we’re going with."
On what the team has to do in difficult conditions in order to play the type of game they want to play:
"I think in Jamaica there was no problem with trying to do with we wanted to do except the Jamaica team played very well. There are no excuses for the field and conditions there. I think that was a pretty good setting. Jamaica in the first 15-20 minutes played extremely well. Against Panama the conditions were not good on the field. It was a very heavy field. Tactically we did a couple things wrong in that game. Where we lost the balls was a real mistake. We too often turned balls over in the middle third of the field and lost our shape as a team and allowed Panama to come at us in favorable situations whether it was getting numbers or just getting behind us real quick.
Secondly we did not do a good job in trying to shut down Panama’s attack which was really balls being flighted up to the front runners. We didn’t do a good job pressuring their outside back who was generally making most of the plays on the left side of the field. And we didn’t do well enough challenging their front-runners to the first ball. So those were things and given the sloppy conditions and all we were just back on our heels. The combination of turning balls over and not dealing well with their forwards made for a hectic game and really put us on our heels.
Having said that we played a very good first half. The Jamaica game we also put ourselves in the position to get an early goal and in these kind of games when those chances are there you have to take advantage of them. We failed in both games and therefore it went right down to the wire and we had to hang on and get a point at the end of the game. It’s a real fine line when playing on the road and we just needed to be a little bit better in making adjustments on the field and taking advantage of our opportunities."
On Tony Sanneh:
"I think Tony has done great. I traveled to Columbus a week or two ago and saw him play against the MetroStars. He’s just coming back in form; he’s really not at his full fitness yet but he’s moving along. Tony has been very impressive in the games I’ve seen him play in MLS. His physical qualities are still there. I think he’s played extremely well. He realizes the international games are going to be a big challenge for him at this point coming back from a fairly long layover but I think he can get the job done. He’s been a great addition to the league and certainly a great addition for Columbus."
On the USA’s offensive-minded midfield against Panama:
"I don’t think that’s a radical change from anything we’ve done. The only other change that you’d make maybe in a midfield shaped like that would be to put a more holding central-type midfielder next to Reyna. We’ve frequently had some kind of look like that throughout the years. For as offensive-minded as you think it looked it didn’t generate a whole lot over 90 minutes. Again I think that’s related to some of the tactical issues I mentioned previously but I think we can see something like that some time in the future."
On whether he feels he has built the type of player pool necessary to finish qualifying:
"I think that’s a concern however looking at it the other way I don’t think we’ve played at our best up to this point but we’re on top of our group. If we can turn a corner here and improve our performance I think we’re going to be in good shape. It’s a challenge I don’t think people realize that our opponents have been training for a couple weeks and it’s very difficult. We know that El Salvador is going to be able to give their best effort. This is a game that they have to win or else they can simply walk away knowing they’re not going to qualify into the next round. It’s going to be a heck of a challenge. We’ll deal with Panama after the Salvadorian game. I think it’s going to be difficult and all players have to be ready to respond and improve on their performances from our last three games."
On playing Landon Donovan and Clint Mathis together:
"The issue with Landon (Donovan) and Clint (Mathis) and where the best spots to play them on the field are. Now as we enter these two games we’re without Reyna. It complicates some of that. What we always try to do is piece together a team that really takes into account the strengths of our players and we try to cover the weaknesses that we think we may have in the lineup. That’s always gonna be the strategy. I think Clint’s going to be a little bit better this time around just because he’s been back into the swing of things a little bit longer. He had an injury over the summer and hasn’t been in the first 11 for Hannover until recently. I think that’s a big plus and we should see a better Clint Mathis this time around.
Landon is Landon. He’s a good player and we need to make sure we get him at the right time and the right moment where he can pull off the plays that make us a better team. People have mentioned that Landon hasn’t played his best but I think to Landon’s credit he’s been the player that’s been part of three of the four goals in the past three games: the goal in Jamaica the goal in Panama and the goal he scored he scored against El Salvador. If Landon can be a little bit more consistent over 90 minutes it’s really going to make a difference for our team."
On developing the players to become playmakers:
"I don’t have a magic wand where I can create playmakers. Players’ qualities and style are developed on a daily and weekly basis with their club teams. A national team coach looks at the qualities of the players he has in his pool and places them on the field in the positions he thinks will best synchronize the whole team. We don’t have many players with Claudio’s qualities. I think another player that might be comparable is John O’Brien.
However we don’t have a whole lot of players like Claudio and I think that’s one of the voids on our team. I think there are a couple of young players that perhaps down the road will be able to step up and assume that role but at the time I think we’re a little bit limited in that regard. I think if you look around the world at a variety of national teams that does seem to be a weakness in a lot of the teams. There aren’t many players with those kinds of qualities. We’re hopeful that as we move forward some of our younger players can emerge in that role."
On the expectations of the conditions against El Salvador:
"The last game they played against Jamaica the field was in good shape. It’s a stadium that I’m not sure of the capacity but I believe that it’s 35000 to 45000. I’ve never been there before. It’s going to be difficult conditions. One would expect with the U.S. coming to town that it’s going to be a capacity crowd. So it’s going to be a real challenge in that environment. The field will be average it won’t be an excuse. But there’s going to be a real home-field advantage with a very solid backing for the Salvadorian team."
On the challenges of replacing Chris Armas and Claudio Reyna:
"The reason Chris isn’t here is because he just returned last week for the Fire after a three or four week layover. He played 15-20 minutes in the Open Cup game and will sit out this weekend due to a suspension. His fitness level for the international game probably isn’t there yet. I think we could have possibly taken a chance and brought him in but at this point in time for Chris’ own good and for his club team I think it’s better that he stays there.
I think Zavagnin and Pablo Mastroeni are options in the role of the defensive type of midfielder. Certainly there are central type of midfielders on this roster. Donovan Mathis Gaven Beasley and Sanneh can play in the center of the midfield. We have options we just need to as we move forward in the week of training make a decision who we’re going to go with and the kind of shape we’re going to take when we step on the field."
On Steve Cherundol
"I’ll tell you Steve Cherundolo is first class. When I informed him of this decision by email he thanked me for letting me know where he stood with everything and he wished us the best. I don’t know if you know a whole lot about the modern day player but it’s very rare that we get that kind of response. Steve has always put the team first. Again in Steve’s case and especially with his club they frown upon players being called and flown across the pond and not participating. That was the case with Steve and I don’t think that would have helped our relationship with Hannover. That was part of my thinking in that decision."
On what he thinks of DaMarcus Beasley’s club experience with PSV at this early stage:
"I think DaMarcus’ club experience is almost predictable. You would think in the early going the excitement and the enthusiasm of being in a new environment and a prestigious club would get him over the top early and he showed pretty well in the early going. He got caught in a number of tough games in a short period of time and I think he crashed physically. The second game the last time down in Panama he was completely shot. I think when he went back to PSV they noticed that physically he was done and he needed a bit of a break. And that’s what occurred. A lot of our young players and a lot of our players aren’t used to those kind of pressures. He went from a game in Panama on Wednesday to a club game on Sunday to a Champions League game the next Wednesday with all that travel so he was pretty shot. This time around I think he’s going to play tomorrow but we’re going to see a much fresher DaMarcus Beasley when he comes back into town on Sunday. Having said that he did play quite well against El Salvador."
On the difficulty of CONCACAF’s semifinal qualifying round:
"Well it’s not easy. The last time around after two games we were in dead last in our group. I could be wrong but we had one point we do know that. By game six we had won the group and the two teams that were ahead of us the whole time tied and they went to a playoff. Things change real quick. Going into this fourth game every team in our group is eligible to advance. The U.S. has five points Panama and Jamaica four and El Salvador has three so it’s going to be pretty intense. That means that the results in game four are going to go a long way in resolving which two teams move forward. It’s difficult as you said. There is very little margin for error. It goes back to that old theory that you have to win at home and try to steal a point on the road. That is more so the case in this round than it is the next (round)."
On players being called in for the national team and any conflicts there can be with MLS:
"The process of national team call ups for World Cup qualifiers is a prescribed timeline for games that are midweek or weekend and the clubs are obligated to release players. That is not a question. What we need to try and pursue down the road is having the league have the ability through their scheduling to not have conflicts with games at that time. Therefore it would take the pressure off the clubs the national teams and the players."
On why Brad Friedel hasn’t been called up much recently and if he’s indicated he no longer wants to play for the MNT:
"No he hasn’t. Actually this would be the first time since the games in June that he would have been eligible to be placed on our roster. We called Brad in originally for the Grenada game but the injury did not permit him to participate. Additionally during the games in August and September the injury was still there and Brad wasn’t in our plans because of the injury. Since the World Cup I don’t know if many people realize this we’ve had 29 games and Brad has played in one of them. In the meantime we’ve had a number of ‘keepers such as Kasey (Keller) Tim (Howard) and Johnny Walker with our teams so for us we’ve been a little inconsistent as a team but goalkeeping hasn’t been a problem. And therefore at this point and time I didn’t want to make another change. I just think it is too many changes and Kasey and Tim and John have done a good job for us.
Next time around we may make some changes. I actually sent him an email today and other players that weren’t part of the roster just to inform him of my decision and my reasoning and my reasoning was exactly what I just mentioned to you. I think in the best interest of our team at this point and time it is the right thing to do. Having said that we know Brad is an outstanding goalkeeper but at the same time I feel our other ‘keepers will get the job done as well."
On how the venues are decided and how he might like to see the process changed:
"The Central American countries are always going to be a challenge in finding the right venues because obviously there are so many Central Americans living in this country now and they are avid supporters of their national team. Any venue is challenging. I would love to build a national stadium in Alaska (jokingly). It’s hard. Obviously we know of the number of Mexican-Americans and Central Americans and the great support for the Jamaican team. It is difficult but common sense tells you where is the best venue to choose to give us the best chance to be successful. That is really the simple rule of thumb. At this time of the year it is even more complicated because of the NFL being in action and Major League Baseball and everything else that is a challenge with venues the television times and everything. Eventually down the road it will be taken care of because I believe our league is going to have their own soccer-specific stadium in every city and it will be a little bit easier picking venues."
On what his input is in the site-selecting process:
"I have input in the process however I’m not responsible for the financials at the end of the day. I firmly believe the decisions are made in the best interest of our team. However there are financials to consider as well and venues that make sense. There are a lot of things that complicate the process. Don’t walk away from this thinking I don’t have any input because I certainly do."
On the fitness level of forward Josh Wolff:
"I thought he looked pretty sharp. After that recent injury he has had he’s had about now maybe six weeks I could be wrong because I know he was just coming back before our last game and he even felt he wasn’t ready to come in to our camp. I think he’s had some consistency there and I think he’s running well off the ball. I think in the games I’ve seen he and (Davy) Arnaud have done very well. So I think we’re seeing Josh shape up and perform and I think he’ll be able to help us."
On if Kerry Zavagnin’s role becomes more important in the midfield:
"There is a chance Kerry could be in our first eleven. Obvious candidates (to fill in) for Claudio would be Kerry and Pablo (Mastroeni) and (Tony) Sanneh have played in that spot before as well. Those are some things we have to consider going into the camp."
On whether or not Carlos Bocanegra would be moved to the outside with Gregg Berhalter on the roster:
"In this roster Carlos is a possibility as is (Bobby) Convey and (Cory) Gibbs. I can’t remember the last time we’ve had him (Editor’s note: Berhalter was last in camp with the U.S. MNT when they faced Poland on March 31). He had that real difficult injury (to his face). He got busted up pretty good and then he had a sports hernia surgery as well. Now he’s been back in full swing with his club team over the last two or three weeks so once we get him in camp and see what he looks like and see what kind of form he is in we’ll be able to make the kind of decisions of perhaps moving players to other spots."
On why he didn’t call defender Greg Vanney in for this camp:
"Just simply a question of the way we are going to play in these games and with some of the players we have we weren’t going to use Greg on a full-time basis for any of these two games. Therefore I felt that why bring in players over to the U.S. that aren’t in our plans for the first eleven. That is really the reason. Greg could certainly be in this roster but I felt that considering the fact that maybe we were going to do a couple of other things it didn’t make sense to bring in a player from abroad that didn’t have a chance to play."
On what he would consider as a success from the next two games:
"I think what I consider success is positioning ourselves to be qualified or to qualify in game six. Failure would be to position yourself where you can’t qualify. It all depends on what happens in the crossover games. During our first game with El Salvador it will be interesting to see what the result is with Jamaica and Panama. But our goal is to advance whether we advance in five games or six games I don’t care. Our mission is qualifying into the final round."
On if he is surprised at all that he is still using Cobi Jones:
"Yes. I will tell you this though in December Cobi and I talked by email and I just told Cobi ‘don’t worry about being there for six months I’m not going to even entertain the idea of using you until when qualifying starts.’ Cobi needed a break as he had been at it for awhile and he got his break and slowly got back into it with the (Los Angeles) Galaxy. When he got the opportunity to Cobi’s credit he made plays in the Jamaica game and the Panama game that made a difference. That is why he’s back here. He deserves it and there is a lot to be said for experience. I think Cobi would even admit he’s maybe not the guy that can play 90 minutes for us in the next two games but he still loves it."