[USA-MEXICO COUNTDOWN] With the possibility of rain on Wednesday, U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley says that it will be important to set the tone early and expects the game will start out at a very fast tempo. For more on what Bradley had to say about Wednesday's USA-Mexico and his players ....
"It's nice to have everybody on the call. We're finally here in Columbus. It seems like we've been talking about this game for a long time and there is an excitement level everywhere we go. Of the players that we've called in, Landon [Donovan] will arrive later today, as will Jose Torres, but the rest of the players have arrived and we're anxious to get a good training in this afternoon and get ready for the match."
(Click here for the audio of Bob Bradley's teleconference.)
On the veteran leadership on the roster:
"Throughout qualifying we've relied heavily on that core of veterans. I think they help set a good tone in every camp and they understand what these games are all about. In the first game of a final round against a rival like Mexico, I think that kind of experience will be very, very important. We're looking to those guys to lead us on the field."
On what he saw in Jozy Altidore that pushed him onto the roster:
"We think about the camps he's been in and the games he's played for us and we still see some qualities that we think fit well into our group. In a year where he has had some changes, and obviously just been put on loan, we still felt that having him in this camp, talking to him, seeing where he is and having him ready to go is important and something that will help our team."
On whether he will play cautiously:
"There is the possibility of rain on Wednesday and I expect that the field is going to be fast. I think that early in the game it will be important to try to be the team that is aggressive in an intelligent way, trying to play in the other team's end, connecting passes and finding a rhythm, trying to jump on the loose balls. Certainly in a game like this, beginning this round, the expectation is that the game will start out at a very fast tempo and we want to be ready for that."
On other teams in the group:
"I think that it will be interesting to see how the game's play out in the beginning of this round. It's not easy to tell from the past games, given that the groups were different. Our focus is on Mexico. We always respect the talent that they have and the way they play. It's interesting and ironic that we ended up playing them first. Really, our effort and our energy so far has been focused on that. We will scout some games also on Wednesday and make sure we're ready for our next opponents as we move along."
On whether it was important to limit the roster to 20 players:
"We figured all along that we'd bring in between 20 and 23 players. One factor is that it's a single fixture date which just doesn't give you that much time. You have to have some starting points when they come in but there will always be some decisions. We have a very short period of time to size things up. Players come in that haven't played as much, but the flip side is guys that played on the weekend and we have to assess very quickly where they are physically. That's sort of the way it works on a single fixture date and we felt that this was a good starting point for making those decisions."
On whether the atmosphere surrounding the game is a distraction:
"Initially the idea of playing Mexico in the first game I think caught everybody by surprise because the odds were against that happening. Every time you play Mexico there is a level of excitement and anytime I spoke with any of the players after the [hexagonal] draw that was all they talked about. The understanding of how important the game is, the feeling of representing the United States against Mexico, for the guys who have been there, is something that they treasure. Really, we're just excited to be here and looking forward to the game."
On whether there is a psychological advantage playing in Columbus:
"For the guys who have played in those games I think there is a good feeling about playing here. They enjoy the crowd that comes and roots us on. I think the fact that it's a smaller stadium really ensures that the atmosphere on the inside of the stadium is great. As I mentioned earlier, especially when you play this time of year, the fact is that it's going to be a fast field and a fast game. We've mentioned that a number of times over the past few years that when you play at night and the field is quick, it is really the kind of game that players get excited for. They all knew that would be part of Columbus and that's certainly a good edge for us."
On whether Mexico doesn't like playing in Columbus:
"I'm not sure, but we hope so. I think when the game starts, there is going to be a lot of energy at the beginning of the game and we're going to have to concentrate on getting the upper hand and playing our game."
On whether he is concerned about the sharpness of players who haven't been playing much with their club:
"Yes, that is a concern. Those are decisions that we make as a staff and sometimes in a training session, you don't always get a great answer but you get a gut feeling, and in other cases you're going on past experiences and a track record. There is no set way to make those decisions but certainly the fact that some guys haven't been playing as much is a concern."
On the young crop of central midfielders:
"The center of the field is important and we hope to make it hard for them in that part of the field, that's certainly something that I think we've done well in some of our important games leading up to this point. We know that Pavel Pardo is an incredibly important player for them so we need to close him down quickly, put him under pressure and make the game difficult for him."
On Mexico's current form:
"We have a lot of respect for Mexico. The previous round of qualifying was a weird one for them. With the hurricane they played their first three games at home, they won each of those games and I think they took their foot off the gas. As we all know, away games in qualifying will always be difficult. When I watch them I still see the qualities of all the good Mexican teams, players that are good on the ball, mobility and the way they do things as a group and there are some individually talented guys, so we prepare for that."
On how to deal with players who haven't had much playing time:
"These are all factors when we select a group of players to come in. We've had nine players that were part of training camp since January and now obviously 11 players that come in addition. I think that gives us good options and we'll have some difficult decisions to make and I think this is the best balance that we can get given the circumstances."
On Jose Torres' qualities and experience against Mexico players:
"Jose is a player who is good with the ball, he sees things quickly. We've had him in a couple of camps and we've always felt good about the simple way that he connects the game to people around him. We're excited that he's a part of our national team and we'll see him later today and I think that he's someone who can help us in this game."
On how the team will gel with only a few days of training together:
"With the national team you have to believe that previous matches and training camps all start to build a foundation and that every time you come together, you can pick up where you left off. It is totally different than coaching a club team. You rely on a core group of players, leaders that set a tone in the camps. The way that we do things, the environment that we've created, we've tried to have as simple and solid a routine as possible so that every time we get together we can continue the good work."
On Oguchi Onyewu's growth as a player:
"I have really seen progress in all ways since the World Cup [in 2006]. He has matured as a leader, he continues to polish up his game and the things that needed work. His play with his club team has been important. He's played an important role for them and his team has had a very good defensive record, he's been a threat on set pieces and I think that the regular contribution that he's made on a championship team in Belgium has helped our national team."
On whether he is disappointed to not have cold weather for this game:
"No, I think that we felt it was important to play in conditions that fit what a lot of the players have been playing in lately. Given that we do have a group of players that come from Europe I think the weather here on Wednesday will fit very closely with the weather they've been training in and playing in. I also think, which I believe is important, that when you're playing a game around these temperatures, in terms of creating a fast game, a good game, some of my favorite games were played in these conditions. I don't think we're too concerned that it's not that cold. I think it's got all the makings of a great situation for the game."
On Mexico arriving two days earlier than usual to prepare for the game:
"They also have a number of players coming in from Europe. I think they understand what that's all about. I read something the other day where a comment was made about Nery Castillo and I think that when you play for Shakhtar Donetsk you're not that worried about cold weather. I think they have a core group that comes from playing in those conditions and I have to assume they felt that it would help the rest of them to be here for a few days leading up to the game."
On the pressure that is on Mexico heading into an away qualifier:
"I'm sure that within the team they have a good mindset. Sven-Goran Eriksson has an excellent track record everywhere he's coached and I'm sure they are not allowing too much of what is flying around to interfere with their mentality. He is an experienced coach and you always try to find ways to prepare your team accordingly. You guys all get to hear me talk about the work that gets done on the inside and you have to create an inner circle. You rely very heavily on all of that during these moments."
On the play of Sacha Kljestan:
"I think it's been important for Sacha to develop a more complete game, to continue to improve and play at a higher level, to play an important role on the national team. You have to be able to take the things that you do and make them count more when the games are faster, harder and more difficult. I think like some of our other younger players, he's in that process right now and we continue to see things that show us that he's picking up on certain things that he's improving. We're also seeing some other things that we can point out that need to get better."
On whether the U.S. is producing more good, young players:
"It's an important part of any team. Charlie [Davies] and Robbie [Rogers] are good examples of players who have those qualities and they have been in the camp throughout January and we feel like there is good progress being made."
On the qualities of forward Brian Ching:
"Brian is a player that, anyone who has been on his team has tremendous respect for what he brings. He's a player that goes into the spots on the field that really count. He makes plays in those areas which is obviously what a forward has to be about. He works very hard for the team. He's a threat to score goals and because of the way he works for others, he's always a guy who helps create opportunities for the players around him."
On Mexican forward Nery Castillo:
"He is a very clever player with great speed and an excellent left foot. Whenever we talk about guys who have had some ups and downs in their club careers, he's certainly one of those players who has had some challenges, but obviously the talent is there and we know that."
On how the camp will benefit the younger players:
"They can learn from the veteran players. They see how guys like Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu come into the camp and see the tone that those players set for the team. They get a sense of how we operate. All of these players have now had a little bit of experience with the national team and have shown good qualities and every time you bring them in you hope that the progress continues."
On whether there is a different mentality before a game against Mexico:
"Yes, you can tell from the way everybody arrived that there is a focus and a sense of excitement about playing Mexico."
On Landon Donovan's play at Bayern Munich:
"Landon has done well to establish himself in a team like that in a short amount of time. They have so much talent that it's not easy to break through. Even a day like yesterday where he comes on as a sub, the score is tied 1-1 and he's coming on for Luca Toni. That is a great statement in itself. As far as the future is concerned, obviously not all of it is in Landon's control and that's sometimes the way it works for a player. But I think the fact that he is looking for new challenges is important and if that continues to be the way he looks at things, I expect that there will be new places that he goes to down the road."
On whether Freddy Adu was considered for this camp:
"Yes, he was considered. Without getting specific to any one player, if you look at the bigger pool of players that participated throughout qualifiers last year, it gives everybody a sense of the pool. There are many different considerations that we look at when we put a group together. I already mentioned that single-fixture dates are particularly challenging because of the short turnaround. Freddy is a guy that's in our pool and a player that will continue to be looked at every time we come together."
On how the U.S. sometimes comes together to form a team that's greater than the sum of its parts:
"I think the most important thing is how much it means to every one of these guys every time they get called in. When you go to Europe and try to have a career there, it's not always easy. Players miss certain things about being in the U.S. and so there is a great camaraderie in this group of guys every time we come together. The first day they're catching up on all sorts of things and I think that has always been a great thing to see. As coaches we always try to say that it's a really important starting point every time we get together."
On whether players feel that they have something to prove as Americans:
"Yes, that is true. Players are always trying to prove how much progress we've made in the United States. They've realized that accomplishments in the United States don't count for much in Europe. That feeling exists and is certainly part of the motivation."
On whether the U.S. will be affected by the unseasonably warm weather:
"I don't know for sure, but I doubt it will be 60 degrees at kickoff. I still think it will be the type of conditions that make for a good game. That's what we were hoping for when we decided to come to Columbus, together with the kind of support that U.S. has always received when playing here."
On the progression of Charlie Davies:
"Charlie left Boston College, went to Sweden and the first year in Sweden was not easy. His adjustment there took time and last year was an important step for him. He became a regular and he started scoring pretty regularly, which is one of the most important things for a forward. When we've had him back in camp we see that he has matured in these ways. He has great physical qualities. He's still figuring out certain things like movement on the field and his concentration at times. Having him for a month has been great. If he was sitting here he'd know that in that month he had good days and he had days that weren't as good as I thought they should be, but that's all part of it. The bar gets higher and I think he's responding pretty well to these challenges."
On how the U.S. players have embraced the role of favorites in CONCACAF:
"The players are very proud of that accomplishment and they know it will get put to the test again on Wednesday."
On the pressure that the Mexican players and coaches are under:
"Certainly, the press in Mexico pays a tremendous amount of attention to the national team and with that comes pressure. The players are experienced with the press and they understand that. Sven-Goran Eriksson is experienced, too. It's not the same in the United States, but nonetheless, as we continue to grow as a soccer country, more and more of that does take place. It has been mentioned that the U.S. has done well to earn its position in CONCACAF and we understand that there has been success in the past and that every time we step on the field, we have the responsibility to continue that progress. So, there is pressure, but it's a little different than they have in Mexico. Coaches and players understand that that's part of the game."