Still think soccer is a foreign game? In this article, U.S. National Team head coach Bruce Arena and fitness coach Pierre Barrieu prove otherwise. Both coaches offer their insights about the progress of American soccer and the future of the sport.
The largest sporting event on the planet is just around the corner, and the U.S. men’s national soccer team is looking to pick up where it left off in 2002—as a respected contender. After finishing dead last in the 1998 World Cup, the team’s quarterfinal finish in 2002 signified its progress and indicated its potential.
We caught up with national team Head Coach Bruce Arena— the winningest coach in team history—and team Fitness Coach Pierre Barrieu during a World Cup training camp. Read on for Arena’s insights on the upcoming Cup and Barrieu’s thoughts on the growing popularity of soccer in America.
STACK: How has the training camp been going so far?
Arena: It’s been going well for us. We’re going to use the time between now and June 12 to work on a few things. The team is looking good, and we’re on schedule.
STACK: What are you focusing on right now?
Arena: Our focus here is to get our domestic players playing. They’ve had a long layoff since the end of their season, so we want to shake off the rust and get them used to playing again.
STACK: Is it difficult to build chemistry with players who don’t usually play together?
Arena: Not with this group. The biggest issue is really just getting them in playing form. is very different from baseball—even basketball, which is somewhat of an aerobic sport—because it takes so long to get your body fit to play. So much twisting and turning is involved with this game, and the demand for running is intensive. when these guys arrive after a layoff, we immediately deal with their fitness level. The team stuff—tactics and strategy—comes a little later. Over the past few weeks, since their bodies have come around, we’ve been able to focus a little more on soccer strategy.
STACK: With the physical aspect carrying so much weight, what do you think is the most important physical attribute for a player?
Arena: It varies for every position, but at the international level, speed is the determining factor. It’s more than just running fast—it’s about speed of thought, speed of controlling the ball and speed of execution. Soccer players need to master all of these for success at this level.
STACK: How has the American game evolved over the last 10 years?
Arena: Because we have a domestic league now, we’ve improved so much at the international level. It’s allowed our players to better their games, because they play against worthy opponents for extended periods of time. It’s also helped build support and increase popularity for the game in this country.
STACK: Where do you see the game 10 years from now?
Arena: Where do I see it heading? Here [points to Home Depot Stadium]. going to be in large stadiums with continued support for the professional league. That all translates to better players and bigger achievements for the National Team down the road.
STACK: What advice do you offer American high school soccer players?
Arena: Play as much as possible. Even if it’s not organized, play on your own. That’s the biggest challenge for players in every sport in this country. Athletes aren’t motivated enough to do things on their own. Soccer isn’t seasonal. At the highest level, the best players play 10 to 11 months out of the year. Our younger players don’t play year round, which slows their development. Get out there on your own and do what you need to do to get better.
STACK: Can you offer some insight as to what a young athlete can do to stand out?
Arena: Young players need to master technique. Tactical things can only be mastered if you have technical proficiency, so that’s the first part. You need a proficient skill level to move forward in the game. How can you execute advanced strategies without the skill set to do it?
Soccer has undergone an evolution in the United States over the past decade, and it is going to keep evolving. About 10 years ago, noticed that younger American players’ parents never took part in the sport; it was like the first generation of soccer in this country. Now you can watch these same youth teams, and you’ll see that the players’ parents were soccer players. There is support, interest and knowledge of the game at home, which help build the game from the ground up.
The National Team’s success also contributes to the growing strength of soccer in the U.S. Kids have players to look up to—like Landon Donovan. There are marketable athletes on billboards and in commercials who pique interest in the game. It starts with the highest caliber of play. The National Team’s ability to win at the international level will result in better players developing at the youth level. The game is still a suburban sport and hasn’t yet gained wide acceptance in inner cities. We need to gain interest there for it to ultimately take off.
It is really strange to me that people bash the sport on television and radio. Guys like Jim Rome who talk badly about the sport, it’s inappropriate. That’s not a journalist’s job. Anyway, why would you talk negatively about a sport right after coming back from an outstanding showing in the World Cup in Japan and South Korea? The only reason can think of is that people are afraid soccer will continue growing in the U.S. There’s nothing to be afraid of though. love basketball and football, and realize soccer will never compete with those sports here. But there is no reason to badmouth a sport and its athletes who achieve amazing things.
- This summer, 32 teams will compete in Germany for the 18th FIFA Football World Championship. Sixty-four matches in 12 venues will determine the winner.
- The first World Cup was held in 1930. FIFA’s president, Jules Rimet, persuaded 13 teams to meet in Uruguay to take on the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Gold Medal winners.
- The match schedule for the 2006 FIFA World Cup was announced on Dec. 3, 2003: The opening match is set for June 9, 2006, in Munich; the final match will be played July 9, 2006, in Berlin.
- The preliminary rounds were determined by a draw in Frankfurt on Dec. 5, 2003.
- Germany expects 3.2 million spectators from around the world during the tournament.
- The largest crowd to watch a Cup game was 199,850. This astonishing number of fans crammed into a Brazilian stadium to watch Brazil battle Uruguay during the 1950 World Cup.
- Brazil and Germany are the most successful teams in World Cup history. Brazil has won the Cup five times, including the 2002 Cup in Japan/South Korea, and has taken second twice. Germany has made it to the final seven times, winning three of them.