By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Mar 23, 2023) US Soccer Players – On Thursday the USMNT jetted south from Orlando to St George’s, Grenada, for just its third competitive match in the Caribbean in the last five and a half years. It’s both an important Concacaf Nations League game that needs a positive result and a reminder of the regional journeys set to become rare in a 2026 World Cup cycle without the usual qualification process.
Considering what happened in the home fixture, a 5-0 win at Q2 Stadium in Austin last June, the United States is the favorite. That game, paced by four goals from Jesus Ferreira, ran the Yanks’ all-time record vs the Spice Boyz to 4W-0L-0D. History shows this is only part of the story of what it’s like when the whistle actually blows in these distant locales.
The USMNT have been statistically dominant against Caribbean nations for many years, racking up a record of 24-4-1 since the start of 2010. Some of those Ws were more hard-earned than others. A 2-1 2012 qualifying win at Antigua & Barbuda was a scrappy affair on a cricket pitch that was deadlocked at 1-1 for more than an hour, requiring a dramatic 90th-minute winner from Eddie Johnson. The team’s first and only previous visit to Grenada was a 2006 preliminary qualifier in June 2004, when a 3-2 away win served up many of the elements that make these trips so tricky.
A large, raucous home crowd cheered on the Spice Boyz, with enough demand for tickets that the match was moved from the national stadium to the adjacent cricket venue for its larger capacity. That plus heavy rains in turn affected the playing surface, with a fast, worn area in the center of the pitch and standing water in other spots. Fickle weather during the game itself ranged from direct, draining sunshine to driving rain. A 3-1 US win in Columbus in the first leg of the two-legged series eased the pressure, but overall it wasn’t an easy experience.
Like other Caribbean sides, Grenada has stepped up its overseas player recruitment among its sizable diaspora in the United Kingdom in recent years. That’s brought an infusion of talent and professional experience.
“It’s like any, I think, smaller nation in the Caribbean area. Every day is a challenge for lots of different reasons,” former coach Michael Findlay told USSoccerPlayers.com in Austin ahead of last year’s match. “But I think from purely a football point of view, I think we’ve got to be pleased that we seem to be making progress. Player recruitment is progressing, game modeling and culture is progressing, slowly but surely the raising of standards of professionalism.”
Limitations of location, scale, and resources still persist. Pride, though, is always part of the equation.
“This is an opportunity to learn. This is an opportunity to test ourselves. This is an opportunity to challenge adversity,” said Findlay, who was succeeded Mohammad Kwid over the winter. “Let’s talk realities. Realities are, it’s what, probably $200 million worth of player value on the other side of the pitch. Infrastructure, I don’t think the USA took seven flights in the last five days. So those are realities. They’re not excuses, those are realities. But the reality and the divide that comes closer is these players have no different interest in representing the country with honor. They’re competitive. They want to be successful. They want respect.”
With the current window marking the USMNT’s first full gathering since last fall’s World Cup, this is just the kind of task the Yanks want to complete with authority, even if a win isn’t required to advance to the Nations League knockout stages. It’s the first chance to show what raising the bar post-Qatar will look like.
“These two games, I think the beginning of camp was really important for us. Because it’s like that refocusing, and setting up our goals leading into 2026,” said goalkeeper Matt Turner on Wednesday. “Without the World Cup qualifying process, it’s looking a little bit different than it has in years past. And it really starts with these games.”
Aside from CNL, the USMNT’s competitive events of the next four years will mostly unfold on home soil, with two Gold Cups, the 2024 Copa America, and the ‘26 World Cup. There’s still a strong desire among the squad to improve form away from home. Turner alluded to the program’s current run of just one win in their last seven away matches in regional competition.
A confident win on Friday would allow him and his teammates to return to Orlando, where they’re 5-0-0 all-time at Exploria Stadium, site of Monday’s meeting with El Salvador, on a high.
“We know that our recent record in away games in Concacaf hasn’t been great,” Turner said. “We know it’s not a layup. So we’re going to go down to Grenada and fight for it and go for the win, and then come home and play in front of our home fans again for the first time in a long time. I’m really looking forward to it.”
More from Charles Boehm:
- Five topics to watch for heading into the USMNT March 2023 window
- The state of USL in 2023
- The MLS seasons keep intensifying
- FC Cincinnati assistant Dominic Kinnear on “formation, freedom, ability, and then opportunity”
Photo by John Dorton – ISIPhotos.com