The United States soccer team begins qualifying play for the 2006 World Cup in Germany with a match against Grenada in Columbus, Ohio on Sunday. U.S. men's national team manager Bruce Arena says the world number-eight Americans will not take the game with the 145th-ranked Caribbean island nation lightly.
The Americans come into the Sunday's match-up against Grenada with a record of three wins, one loss and two draws in 2004. They have won their last three games, including a 4-0 home victory over Honduras on June 2.
However, coach Bruce Arena says the team learned a lesson when it needed a second-half injury time goal to salvage a 1-1 draw with 86th-ranked Haiti and will be highly motivated.
"We want to get back to the World Cup and place ourselves in a position to do well again," he said. "And we know that if we do not deal with these kind of games in the right fashion, we will never be in Germany in 2006."
Arena said Grenada counter-attacks well and boasts a number of offensive threats.
"We need to keep our eye on Jason Roberts who has played in the English first division and is a big strong forward and a young player by the name of Ricky Charles who is a very mobile forward and is probably their most important player when they get out on the break. He's got good speed and is very active," he noted.
The United States, which advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, had a bye in the first-round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region. Grenada beat Guyana on 8-1 aggregate. Arena says Team USA has gone through some changes since its World Cup success in 2002.
"As we have moved closer to this date we have added experience and talent to our group and it has shown on the field, because we have obviously been a little bit more successful as of late," he said.
Kasey Keller, the American starter at the 1998 World Cup and a backup at the 1990 and 2002 tournaments, will be in goal on Sunday. Tony Meola, the starter for the U.S. team at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, is Keller's backup.
Forward Clint Mathis and goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who started at the World Cup two years ago, will miss the game because of injuries and goalkeeper Tim Howard is being given time off following his first season with Manchester United.
The winner of the home-and-home aggregate series, which concludes June 20 in Grenada, advances to a semifinal group likely to include Jamaica, El Salvador and Panama.