The following quotes are from the Aug. 29 MLS conference call featuring Chicago Fire coach Bob Bradley New England forward Wolde Harris and MLS executive vice president Ivan Gazidis.
Gazidis' Opening Comments
"The divisional races and playoff races are heating up. Every game is critical at this point and I think you see that in the intensity of the games and the passion on the field. It's really an open competition this year, it's wide open and there for the taking. The state of play in MLS is
ôWe've got nine MLS players in the U.S World Cup qualifying game, a crucial one for the US. We wish Bruce Arena and all the players all the very best. I think they have the ability to win that game and take it to the next level.
ôIn total, we've had 29 players competing in 2002 qualifiers. The only team that has not been affected by that is Tampa Bay, they've been lucky. Some teams are more affected than others. That's just something we have to deal with."
Bradley's Opening Comments
"We have four games remaining, the next three all at home. Things are so tight that the possibility exists for us to move up to the top one or two spots. We also know that there are teams that are not too far behind us. We feel very strongly that we are at this point of the season with much to play for.
ôWe've had a pretty solid stretch of matches. Our game against Tampa Bay this past weekend was a very good game, made a little more interesting by the weather conditions. The game took four hours to complete. For those fans that braved the elements, they saw a lot of good goals and exciting play."
Harris' Opening Comments
"I don't know if there is a secret to my recent success. I have managed to get into dangerous positions at times during the game and finish some. We definitely have some tough games coming up. We are looking forward to taking the games one half at a time. Once we keep that type of focus, I think the chips will fall in our favor. We are looking forward to going to D.C., then taking them on up here."
Bradley on the Fire's many injuries
"For our game tomorrow, Lubos Kubik, Andrew Lewis, Carlos Bocanegra, Chris Armas, Diego Gutierrez and Ante Razov (national team) are all out. That's six guys that are out for sure. We have three guys that need to take a fitness test tomorrow, Jesse Marsch, C.J. Brown and Mike Sorber.
ôWe are relying on some of those A-League call-ups. The possibility is that we will start at least one if not more of the call-ups.
ôThis time of year, there are a lot of teams that have injuries and national team call-ups. Dallas has some guys out, they will be without Graziani tomorrow. It is important to understand that at this point of the season, between World Cup qualifiers, Olympics and injuries, teams are forced to play without key guys."
Gazidis on the division setup
"What we currently have is fairly close to having one table. The playoff race for the top eight spots really works like a single division. The major difference is the schedule, which isn't balanced as an ideal single division would be. In terms of overall records and who qualifies for the playoffs we effectively do have a single league. The divisions were setup to promote local rivalries.
ôWe have a unique situation in the U.S., where the country is just so vast. To have one single open league, it takes away from the rivalries. I think people are interested in our races and those rivalries."
Harris on Jamaica's World Cup chances
"This team is a little bit different than the 1998 team. We are a little more cohesive, a little younger. There are a lot of new faces in the side.
ôYou can expect a lot from this team. We are playing a lot quicker with a lot more fluently under a new coach. On the coming weekend, everyone is looking forward to watching us play against a good St. Vincent and the Grenadines team."
Bradley on wear and tear of a long season
"It takes a toll. What we have seen this year is that when you begin with a few injuries, the core of players that you rely on for all of these matches grows smaller. There's a greater chance that you run those healthy players down. I do think that one of the bright spots has been that all the MLS teams put a great emphasis on the Open Cup. That is a plus in the long run.
ôWith all of the different situations, all of the schedules need to be coordinated. Those schedules have to be done well, or the quality of play goes down. The future development of our own stadiums is also crucial to our league, so we can control the dates of our games."
Harris on the wear and tear of a long season
"It's definitely a challenge both physically and mentally. In this part of the season, every game is a must-win game. In order to be able to play, mentally, you have to be prepared to do the things you do. It's quite a challenge to play Saturday-Wednesday each week.
ôYou have be ready to go through the process every two or three days. It takes a big commitment from each player to get the necessary fluids and go what you need to keep your body in top shape."
Gazidis on the complicated schedule
"We are already planning ahead for next year. I'm not responsible for the scheduling process. There are so many constraints on what you can do with scheduling. The Stadium conflicts due to the lack of control of the international schedule and television time slots. You have to consider the league, Open Cup and internationals.
ôAll of those things combine to make for a difficult task. We have a couple of unique things this year that have caused some challenges. We didn't know the qualifying schedules until real late. We'll have a much clearer idea of what the schedule is like for next year. The timing of the Olympics was poor for us, coming during our playoffs. It is not something we have to deal with next year. I really think we do a pretty good job with the schedule in MLS."
Bradley on the playoff format
"I think what has happened is there are more possibilities at the end in terms of who will make it and what the match-ups will be. I certainly would say that when you look at how many important games are left it has worked well."
Harris on the playoff format
"It adds a little bit of excitement. The fans are ready to see playoff games between teams from different divisions. I think the fans and players look forward to that too. You have teams matched up differently this year. Plus, it is a different challenge to have to face someone new in the playoffs. It's a pretty exciting format."
Bradley on Evan Whitfield's development
"I believe that Evan has made great progress this season. We drafted him a year ago, and he spent some time in Belgium. It was fairly late in the year when he decided to come to MLS. It's tough to jump in like that. He came into this season very eager and we have always felt that Evan is a very talented young player that has great speed and is very competitive.
ôWe think he needs to play more under control and more focused. It's not like it has been a perfect smooth path upwards, he had some good games in the first 8-10 games. Then he fell back and struggled in the middle of the year.
ôIn recent weeks, he has played well again. Our attitude for Evan and Josh (Wolff) and (Chris) Armas is that this is a special opportunity and we support that decision. We hope that by the time these guys return from the Olympics we still are playing important games."
Bradley on Chris Armas' return to health and Olympic chances
"I spoke to (U.S. Olympic coach) Clive Charles earlier today and I think that the decision is in Clive's hands. It's a very difficult one, he knows that Chris would add a great deal to that team. You are only allowed three overage players.
A preliminary roster needs to be in by tomorrow and you can not list four overage players. It's two weeks out from his injury. To be honest, he probably is looking at another 2-3 weeks as far as his return to playing. That puts him right in the midst of first round games. On our end, all we can do is provide good information. As much as it's not easy to miss a player we support him going to the Olympics."
Bradley on the use of Hristo Stoitchkov
"I think you need to look at the whole situation. He came in and had not been playing regularly. In our first five games, he played and started in four. In those four games, he played 70, 80 and even 90 minutes. Somewhere in there, he injured his groin. That probably was a little too much too soon.
He had a series of setbacks with the groin. Eventually, he hurt himself badly in Miami. He missed six or seven weeks. We decided to build things up properly when he returned. We need him in September as Josh Wolff will be gone. The Open Cup match last week, we were fortunate that Wolff could give us good production off the bench in place of Hristo off the bench.
ôIn our weekend game, Hristo was still sore so we brought him off the bench. His personality and determination mean a lot to our team and that is clear."
Harris on being a full-time starter in New England
"I've always wanted to be a full-time starter. I've gotten that chance here. The way I look at it is, the more playing time I get the more chances I have to score. It's been a pleasure for me this year, I feel real comfortable knowing I will be on the field every game and that has given me a lot of confidence here."
Gazidis on a 28-game schedule in 2001
"It's not locked in, but that's the direction we are moving in. I don't know exactly when we can announce that for sure but that (28-game schedule) is the direction we are headed in."
Harris on his personal improvement this year
"It's a combination, one is just being on the field more. Learning from past mistakes is important. Knowing the guys that I am playing against is a big factor. Another thing is gelling with my teammates. They now know where to find me on the field, how to get me the ball in the right spots. I'm able to stay up front and do the best I can in and around the box."
Bradley on the potential Olympic lineup
"I think that Josh Wolff brings great mobility, he runs very well off the ball. He is a constant threat to get behind the defense. He would fit well with both Conor Casey and Chris Albright. Those players are a little bit bigger and stronger than Josh. The combination with Landon Donovan is also interesting. Perhaps you don't have the player who has a little bit of extra size to hold the ball, but they would present problems to defend. The chance to see those two together would be exciting."
Gazidis on the contract situation of Ante Razov
"Ante's contract is up and the end of this year. Our hope and expectation is to keep him for next year. He wants to examine all of his options. There is not a fixed timetable for that. At this point, we are not in the thick of talks, Ante is concentrating with the task at hand on the field. We speak with his agent very regularly. Ante's focus is on the field right now."
Gazidis on McBride's loan deal
"It's something we have discussed with Brian for some time. He wants to experience English soccer. A number of English clubs have been interested in Brian because of his aerial skills. Last season, he didn't want to go after a hard season. Now, Brian felt like he wanted to keep playing through this offseason. He is there just for the offseason, there isn't any scenario that has him staying there."
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