Arena says time's come to knuckle down

U.S. team gets message before Nike Cup opener

Soccer

June 03, 2000|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

U.S. men's soccer coach Bruce Arena told his players after their first practice in Herndon, Va., this week for today's U.S. Nike Cupopener that it's time to get serious about winning.

Later, he told reporters it's also time for those players, who create shots aplenty but miss most, to start hitting the net.

"I would like to see our forwards as a factor in this tournament, scoring goals," Arena said, adding that his major area of concern has become "finishing our chances - and it's not an issue pointed solely at our forwards. I think it's everybody."

He made the assertion during a news conference with two of his key attacking players, veteran midfielders Cobi Jones and Claudio Reyna, both of whom applied different spins to the finishing problem.

Jones, also a forward who is in a prolonged scoring drought for Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy, called the national team's scoring problems "overblown."

"I don't think many of the players are worried about it," he said, "because the goals have come in the past, and they will continue to come."

Said Reyna, the team's play-maker coming off a standout season for Scottish league and Cup champ Glasgow Rangers: "The good thing is, we're creating a lot of chances. ... There are a lot more positive things than negative things about the goal-scoring."

The new urgency from Arena, who for months has counseled patience and tolerance as he sorted and seasoned players, reflects the times: Qualifying for the 2002 World Cup begins in this part of the world in mid-July - with the Americans on the road for their first two matches.

Thus, said the coach, renowned for telling it like it is to his teams: "Certainly, my expectations are that we win the U.S. Cup."

The seventh annual U.S. Nike Cup is a four-nation invitation-only affair that opens today in Washington, where the Americans will play South Africa at 4 p.m. on national television. The visitors feature a fast midfield, with several players on European pro teams.

With league play in Europe having concluded, Arena for the first time has together, save for several injured players, virtually the full roster he expects to use in qualifying. Most players, he said, will play in the Nike Cup games.

"It's my last look at [them]," he said. "All of the players know how important these three games are, especially with no games scheduled prior to World Cup qualifying. ... And we think success in the U.S. Cup will carry over toward World Cup qualification."

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