COLUMBUS, Ohio - For the United States, today's World Cup qualifier against Grenada may be little more than a formality.
For the Caribbean island nation, however, the second-round game is immensely important.
"We've never got this far," midfielder Shalrie Joseph said Saturday before heading out to practice in pouring rain. "It's the biggest game in the country's history."
Grenada advanced by outscoring Guyana 8-1 over two games. The Americans, who made the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup, had a bye in the opening round of qualifying for the 2006 tournament in Germany.
Joseph is one of five professional players on Grenada's roster. The others play in local leagues, most working as office clerks and a couple as construction workers. Atkinson Neckles, an 18-year-old midfielder, is still in high school. The United States is ninth in the world rankings, Grenada 138th.
For some Grenadian players, the game is an opportunity to get noticed by Major League Soccer or college coaches.
Ricky Charles had 18 goals and 16 assists last year for South Carolina-Spartanburg. This game, in effect, will be his MLS tryout.
"That was my main goal for college, to play for the MLS, basically," he said. "But nothing has worked out for the moment so hopefully after (today's) game, something will happen to me."
The home-and-home, total-goals series concludes June 20 in Grenada at the 15,000-seat Cricket National Stadium in St. George's. The series is one of 12 in the CONCACAF (North and Central America and Caribbean) region. The winners advance to one of three groups of four for the second stage, which begins in August.