Sunday, June 13, 2004

The Road to Germany Starts Now

As I mentioned previously, the USA begins qualification for the 2006 World Cup when it meets Grenada today at Columbus Crew Stadium at 1:00 PM EDT. The game is the first half of a two-leg, home and home, total goals series. It will be carried live on ESPN2 and Telemundo.

Needless to say, the US squad enter the game as heavy favorites. After struggling for form earlier this year, Bruce Arena's team has turned things around at just the right time. A morale boosting win in Poland was followed by a solid win over Mexico and a clinical 4-0 thrashing of Honduras. Arena will almost certainly employ an attacking lineup, with Fulham's Brian McBride and the LA Galaxy's Jovan Kirovski forming the strike tandem. Landon Donovan will spearhead the attack from midfield. Kasey Keller should get the start in goal, though it will be a bad sign if he has very much to do.

While clear underdogs, Grenada do enter this game with some momentum. The Spice Boyz reached this point after an 8-1 aggregate thrashing of Guyana. More recently, they earned a win and a draw in a pair of friendlies with Cuba. Their best player is New England Revolution midfielder Shalrie Joseph, while Wigan Athletic forward Jason Roberts is the main scoring threat. USC-Spartanburg's Ricky Charles is also dangerous in attack. Anthony Modeste is the leader on defense. Roberts, Anthony Bedeau and Byron Bubb play in the English lower divisions, while Joseph and Charles play in the US. The rest of the squad play in Grenada'a part-time domestic league.

On paper, this should be no contest. The USA is ranked 9th in the world, and is coming off an appearance in the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. Grenada, by contrast, is ranked 138th, and has absolutely no soccer pedigree. However, as the cliche goes, the game isn't played on paper. The USA will look to attack from the outset, in order to put the series away and render the second leg in Grenada a mere formality. Grenada will try to bunker in the hope of keeping the US off the board and giving themselves a chance at home in the second leg.

If the US can create and finish chances like they are capable of, they should be able to build a big enough lead to make the return leg meaningless. Grenada, however, should not be underestimated. They do have some skill. More importantly, they are playing under absolutely no pressure. The Spice Boyz have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The more the USA lets them stay in the game, the more confident they will be. If Grenada is able to leave Columbus with the issue still in doubt, after a tie or one goal defeat, the USA will be flirting with disaster in the second leg. In my view, Bruce Arena will make sure the US players know this.

Prediction: USA 4, Grenada 0

See the following links for more information:

Soccer America Match Preview

Washington Post Grenadan Team Profile


Post a Comment

<< Home