This is an exciting time for U.S. Soccer, and for me personally. Having witnessed the thrills of the last campaign, I’m looking forward to being a part of what promises to be a an entertaining and absorbing qualifying process.
Our first challenge comes Sunday against the tiny island of Grenada. Having traveled there to watch their first-round qualifier against Guyana, I could see a nation of 90,000 people with full passion and commitment to their team. Make no mistake, for the players and fans of Grenada, this will be the game of their lives.
Generally speaking, the Grenadians are a strong and athletic side. They are tall, fast and extremely competitive. While a few of their key players play professionally overseas, most of the team is made up of amateur players who will be experiencing a game of this magnitude for the first time. For this reason, fitness may certainly come into play, especially in the later parts of a warm afternoon in Columbus.
Playing out of a 3-5-2 formation, their team is likely to always have seven or eight players behind the ball, seeking to frustrate our attack and taking advantage of counter-attacking opportunities with their forwards. They play very direct, often bypassing the midfield and playing directly into their attackers. Because of their height, athleticism, and combativeness, they are a threat on corners and free kicks and wide positions.
Their best player is midfielder Shalrie Joseph, who we have all seen plying his trade in MLS with the New England Revolution. He is the player that dictates the rhythm of their team, and his physical presence certainly helps on the defensive side of the ball. Anthony Modeste, their sweeper and team captain, is an excellent organizer with great speed and an ability to read the game well. Up top, they have a pair of dangerous strikers. Jason Roberts, who plays for Wigam Athletic in the English First Division, is stocky, holds the ball well, and has a knack for scoring goals. Ricky Charles is an energetic, hardworking forward who is always looking to make runs behind defenders.
As I said, this is a huge opportunity for them to take on one of the bigger teams in the region, and we expect them to come out flying. The game will be fast and frenetic in the opening stages, and we will have to look for our spots. They are a team of aggressive tacklers, and we expect to get plenty of restart opportunities in dangerous positions. On both sides of the ball, restarts could be a big factor.
There’s not much more to add, except to say that this is a World Cup qualifier, and no matter whom the opponent, our players know what is at stake. The team has trained well all week, and will bring the right attitude and mentality to the game Sunday. The fans in Columbus have always provided great support for the U.S. team, and we hope to repay them with a quality performance to kick off the road to Germany 2006.