- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

American coach Bruce Arena says the upcoming World Cup in Germany will be the best ever, and if the U.S. team advances from its group — with the Czech Republic, Italy and Ghana — American soccer will have “arrived.”

Speaking at a D.C. United charity luncheon this week, Arena said he will name his 23-man roster for the finals by May 2 — two weeks before FIFA’s mandated deadline. He also will name at least 10 “alternates” in case there are injuries or players on the roster who don’t meet the challenge in the team’s upcoming four warmup games.

“In my opinion it’s going to be the best World Cup in history for a lot of reasons,” Arena said. “It’s in Europe, which tends to bring in all the best teams.”

A team from the continent where the finals are held usually wins.

“That makes the European countries big players,” Arena said. “Unfortunately we have to play two of them, the Czech Republic and Italy, which is one of the favorites to win the World Cup. In my opinion Brazil is the team to beat.”

Arena believes he has a better team that he had at the finals in Korea/Japan in 2002, when the Americans were surprise quarterfinalists.

“The bottom line is we need to have one point going into the third game [against Ghana on June 22] and we will be well-positioned to advance out of the group,” Arena said. “In Korea, no one expected us to beat Portugal, one of the favorites. If we can be successful and get out of this group, we will have arrived because there is not a tougher group.”

Arena, who sometimes has harsh words for Major League Soccer, praised the league, which kicks off its 11th season today.

“When we started this league, we had 10 teams and no soccer-specific stadiums,” Arena said. “Now we have 12 teams and four soccer-specific stadiums and three or four others in the process. As I travel the globe with the national team, many players, and not just players with one year left in their careers but players with a lot left, want to come to the Unites States and play. Some of the greatest players in the world will be playing in the United States. I really believe that.”

After the World Cup, Arena said he wouldn’t mind coaching in the English Premier League.

“I think I can coach there, but I need a team,” Arena said. “That’s a possibility, but you know how Americans are viewed differently there, but it is changing. If there is an opportunity, I certainly would like to explore it. … I’m not ready to retire at 54 years old.”

Big pockets — The New York Red Bulls have purchased tickets for more than 1,000 fans and are ferrying them to the D.C. United game at RFK Stadium tomorrow for free.

“I love it. Bring on,” United technical director Dave Kasper said.

MLS iron-men — As MLS kicks off its season today, only 10 players remain active from the inaugural season in 1996. They are Chris Armas (Chicago), Chris Henderson (New York Red Bulls), Cobi Jones (Los Angeles Galaxy), Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake), Jesse Marsch (Chivas USA), Tony Meola (Red Bulls), Jaime Moreno (D.C. United), Eddie Pope (Real Salt Lake), Steve Ralston (New England) and Ante Razov (Chivas USA). Ten-year veterans Jeff Agoos, Preki and Mark Chung all retired in the preseason.

Roundup — MLS’ reserve teams will play six home and six away games this year. D.C. United Reserves won the Reserve Division and a $20,000 bonus in 2005. …

The U.S. women’s team will begin a six-month residency program tomorrow for 25 alternating players at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. …

Manchester United’s 1-0 midweek win over West Ham drew an English Premier League record attendance of 69,522. …

Ronaldinho, 26, is the most commercially valuable soccer player in the world, worth $56.7 million according to the German marketing firm BBDO. He is followed by David Beckham, ($54.2 million) and Wayne Rooney ($52.8 million). However, Beckham still has the best known face in soccer.

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