Arena, U.S. Prepare for Summer Abroad

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bruce Arena knows who his team will play in the first round of the 2006 World Cup. He knows who looms in the next stage, if his team makes it that far. He knows the German cities where those matches will be played, the times of kickoff, where his team will practice and in which hotel it will be based.

All the vital details are in place. Now comes the tricky part: figuring out a plan to succeed at the World Cup again.

Arena, the Fairfax-based coach of the U.S. men's national soccer team for the past seven years, has just less than six months to ready his players for the sport's quadrennial tournament and prepare to prove to the sport's international establishment that the Americans' quarterfinal run in 2002 was not an anomaly.

The first step in that process will come Tuesday, when Arena announces the roster for his first pre-Cup training camp, set to open Jan. 4 at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

With the European-based players in season, most of the invitees will come from dormant MLS teams, including 16-year-old Freddy Adu and a few of his D.C. United teammates.

Friendly matches have been scheduled against Canada, Norway and Japan this winter on the West Coast, allowing Arena to narrow the player pool and better gauge his team's strengths and weaknesses heading into the critical spring months, when all his players gradually become available.

"I think I can come close to naming 23 players today," he said of the final roster during a recent interview in Leipzig, Germany. "However, there are a number of issues like there always are. Some players have injuries right now. What are some of the MLS players going to look like coming back from break? And how quickly will they get into form? It's a little bit difficult right now."

The official roster isn't due until May 15, 3 1/2 weeks before the 32-team tournament begins in Munich with the host country facing Costa Rica.

The Americans were drawn into a difficult first-round group last week with three-time champion Italy; the Czech Republic, ranked second in the world; and emerging African power Ghana. If the United States advances to the round of 16, it likely would face defending champion Brazil.

Although the schedule is imposing, Arena believes success in 2002 provided an immeasurable boost in confidence.

"Psychologically, it's important for your players to know they can step on the field and win in the World Cup," he said. "In 1990, we didn't win any games. In '94, we weren't particularly good but, having said that, we got out of group play -- fair enough. Ninety-eight is a disaster [no wins], so think about our players stepping onto the field in 2002. You think they stepped on with a bunch of confidence? For some of them, there was some scar tissue there. This time, at least, we've gotten over the hump psychologically that we can win on a given day."

The core of the U.S. roster won't be much different from 2002: forwards Landon Donovan and Brian McBride and midfielders DaMarcus Beasley and Claudio Reyna.

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