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‘It’s time to get serious,’ Arena pronounces after first U.S. Cup practice.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

HERNDON, Va. (Monday, May 29, 2000) -- Now it's time for the United States men to get serious.

National team coach Bruce Arena has used the last 18 months to look at a large number of players. The team has had a good degree of success with a 12-5-5 record since Arena took over late in 1998, but he has continually said that results have not as been as important as evaluating a wide range of players and deciding who will be on the field when World Cup qualifying starts.

That time is fast approaching. "We want to win the Cup," Arena said of the Nike U.S. Cup tournament that starts Saturday. "We must prepare ourselves for qualifying. Now is the time for us to get very serious."

Nineteen of the 22 players on the U.S. Cup roster made it to today’s opening training session at the headquarters and practice facility of Major League Soccer’s D.C. United.

Attacker Ernie Stewart was still on route after playing for his Dutch team, NAC Breda in an exhibition in Spain yesterday. Midfielder John O'Brien is in China with his Dutch team, Ajax, and will not be in camp until later this week.

Defender Gregg Berhalter is the only question mark. His Dutch team Cambuur is involved in a tournament to avoid relegation to the Netherlands’ second division and he might not join the team until Monday, missing Saturday's match against South Africa at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

Midfielder Claudio Reyna made it back to the U.S. late yesterday after playing 90 minutes for the victorious Glasgow Rangers in Saturday's Scottish Cup final, but he did not participate in today's training activities. "I'm a bit jet lagged and tired," he explained.

To have enough bodies to scrimmage, Arena added two D.C. United defenders, Eddie Pope and Carey Talley. Pope knew he would practice, but Talley was recruited out of the training room where he had come for treatment of some bumps and bruises.

Pope looked good. He is just about rounding into shape after arthroscopic knee surgery about five weeks ago. Arena did not name him to the Cup squad, but made it clear he will be a key figure for the U.S. when World Cup qualifying starts in July.

A second injured central defender, the Los Angeles Galaxy's Robin Fraser, is also not on the U.S. Cup roster, but will likely also fit into Arena's qualifying plans.

Two injured players who were penciled in as starters, England-based striker Joe-Max Moore and Germany-based defender Steve Cherundolo, are not expected to be ready by July. Moore's season-ending knee injury, suffered while playing for Everton, is more serious than first thought and he is home in Florida receiving therapy.

Midfielder\forward Jovan Kirovski, who broke a bone in his foot during February's Gold Cup matches in Florida, seems fully recovered. He practiced well today and after practice pronounced himself fit. "I'm fine," he said, "There's no pain at all."

Arena said that with a couple of exceptions -- the Netherlands-based Stewart and O'Brien -- he has seen the players often enough to know what to expect from them. "I think I know what I can count on them for, and now it's up to them to produce," he said.

He was asked specifically about two MLS-based strikers, Chicago's Ante Razov and Dallas' Jason Kreis. "They are both having very fine seasons, but now at this level they both have to show me they can score," Arena said. "Both of them have had some good moments with us, but neither has been consistent."

Arena would not commit to who might play which of the U.S. Cup matches. He has 22 players in camp and 20 will be on the final roster. It is probable most will see action either Saturday against South Africa or Tuesday against Ireland. The top 11 would then play the following Sunday against Mexico.

"I might do it that way," Arena said. "But we'll have to wait to see if we have injuries or what else might come up."

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com.

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