United States 3, Grenada 0
As time ticked away in the first half of Sunday's World Cup qualifier at Columbus Crew Stadium, it hardly seemed to matter that the U.S. population is roughly 3,200 times larger than Grenada's and that the American starting goalkeeper makes $1 million a year playing in England while his counterpart earns his living unloading ships back home.
Remarkably, the U.S. national team, ranked ninth in the world and coming off a quarterfinal appearance at the last World Cup, was scoreless with 138th-ranked Grenada.
Six seconds into extra time, however, following a bounty of opportunities that bounced all over the penalty area like an outdoor foosball game, DaMarcus Beasley's simple header eased the tension and propelled the Americans to a 3-0 victory at the start of their 16-month odyssey toward qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
"We were frustrated, but you can't panic," said Beasley, who added a second goal in the 71st minute. "In a game like this, sometimes it's going to take a lot to get the first goal. After we got the one, the second one came, the third one came."
The third goal, scored by Greg Vanney in the closing moments, left Grenada needing a miraculous result in the finale of the two-game, total-goals series next weekend in St. George's, the tiny island nation's capital city.
The Americans seized control of the match right away and finished with comical advantages in shots (34-6) and corner kicks (17-1) before a crowd of 9,137, including several hundred Grenada supporters. But the spirited Spice Boyz cleared three shots off the goal line and clogged the box with numerous well-placed defenders to protect scrambling goalkeeper Kellon Baptiste (11 saves).
"It seemed like they had a net in front of the goal most of the time," U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra said.
But with halftime approaching and Grenada's confidence growing, the Americans broke the tie. From the edge of the penalty area, captain Claudio Reyna chipped the ball toward the far post, where Beasley nodded a four-yard header over Baptiste.
Beasley, 22, added his second goal 26 minutes into the second half on an elegant sequence. The Americans broke out on a counterattack and Landon Donovan charged uninhibited along the right flank. Beasley made a long covert run through the center of the field and behind the defense to run onto Donovan's pinpoint pass for a low finish past Baptiste.
Vanney completed the scoring in the third minute of extra time with an angled shot through traffic to the far corner.
"Grenada played with a lot of heart and emotion and we knew they would be hard to break down," U.S. Coach Bruce Arena said. "At the end of the day, we were certainly pleased with a three-goal margin."
But it didn't come without a couple of scares from the Spice Boyz and repeated failures by the U.S. attack.
Kasey Keller, who became the all-time leader in victories for a U.S. goalkeeper with 38, had to scramble back in the 11th minute to recover Ricky Charles's floating attempt, and five minutes later, Grenada's most accomplished player, England-based Jason Roberts, missed high on a partial breakaway.
The rest of the day belonged to the Americans, who drew seven corner kicks in the first 10 minutes and rarely allowed the ball to leave the attacking end. Bocanegra's header in the 38th minute was cleared off the goal line by Kennedy Phillip and just before Beasley's icebreaker, Charles made two remarkable clears on the goal line on consecutive shots from short range by Brian McBride and Reyna.
Despite the score, "we did extremely well," Baptiste said. "Coming to the States, playing on their home ground, three-nil, it's a good performance. It proved to us that we, as minnows, can compete with any top-ranked team in the world, at any level, at any time."
Soccer Notes: D.C. United's Earnie Stewart, who arrived here early Sunday after playing for United on Saturday night, entered at the very end for his 99th U.S. appearance. . . . U.S. forward Conor Casey left in the 21st minute with a sprained knee. U.S. officials fear that Casey may have ligament damage; he will be sidelined for four to six weeks. McBride was shaken up after taking a blow to the head in the 13th minute but remained in the game. . . . RFK Stadium is one of three finalists to host the MLS All-Star Game on July 31 after plans for Real Madrid to play a league squad in Foxboro, Mass., fell through, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. A decision is expected this week.