Following a 3-0 victory over Grenada last weekend in the opener of a two-game, total-goals World Cup qualifying series, the U.S. national soccer team should hardly be concerned about being eliminated by the Spice Boyz today on the tiny Caribbean island.
Anything other than a loss by at least three goals will provide safe passage for the Americans into the semifinal round, which begins in August. But Coach Bruce Arena also wants his squad to stay sharp and not be embarrassed by a mostly amateur side representing one of the world's smallest nations.
"I think [the Grenadians] have come to terms that they aren't going to advance," Arena said. "However, they do want to win the game."
He doesn't seem worried about his team losing concentration, despite the three-goal cushion.
"Our players, for the most part, are pretty good professionals," Arena said. "I think our younger players don't fully appreciate the complications of qualifying, but our experienced players do and they will be pretty well focused."
Grenada Coach Ali Debellotte believes his team is capable of winning the game, if not the series.
"When we were leaving [Grenada to travel to the United States], people were talking about scores of 15- and 20-nil," he said. "People have seen the performance."
To win the series after a 3-0 loss, however, "that will be a difficult task but we are hoping that at least we can win. What will be very important for the overall development of Grenada football is a victory over the U.S.
"But if we get four [goals]," he added with a smile, "we will accept it."
Grenadians are so excited about their national team, organizers were considering moving today's match from the main soccer stadium, which holds 8,000, to the cricket grounds, which can accommodate 15,000 -- or one-sixth of the country's population.
The U.S. team has made changes to its roster following the opening victory. Forward Conor Casey was dropped after straining a muscle behind his right knee, an injury that will sideline him for four to six weeks. And midfielder Eddie Lewis and defender Eddie Pope have stayed behind after picking up yellow cards in the first match. Another yellow today would mean a one-game suspension that carries over to the next round.
Defender Pablo Mastroeni, midfielder Kerry Zavagnin and forward Josh Wolff were called in.
Arena said he plans to make three to five changes overall in the starting lineup because "we have a lot of players that are vying for positions. It's very competitive, and a lot of guys are pretty comparable to each other. Giving some other players an opportunity will help me solidify my thinking as we approach the semifinal round."
With his team's advancement almost ensured, Arena and his staff can begin looking ahead to its semifinal-round group, which will be finalized today.
Panama will wrap up its series against St. Lucia after winning 4-0 last weekend, but favorites Jamaica and El Salvador have tougher assignments. The Reggae Boyz will host Haiti after the teams played to a 1-1 tie, while the Salvadorans have to play at Bermuda after winning by just 2-1 at home (a 1-0 victory by Bermuda would send it to the next round, based on the first tiebreaker -- away goals).
"There's still a game to play," cautioned midfielder Earnie Stewart, who, if he plays today, will become the eighth U.S. player to reach the 100-game milestone. "A three-goal [series] lead is nice, but we can't take Grenada for granted."