Connolly: Joseph, Grenada stand tall
Talk about a change of scenery.
Less than 40 hours after trudging through the puddles and muddy grounds of Grenada's National Cricket Stadium during his national team's 3-2 loss to the United States, there sat Shalrie Joseph basking in the morning sun while watching his New England Revolution teammates compete in a spirited soccer tennis tournament.
Tired? Yes. Sore? Definitely. Jet-lagged? A little bit.
But disappointed? Hardly.
Despite seeing his nation get knocked out of World Cup qualifying by losing to the U.S. 6-2 in aggregate goals after losing matches on two consecutive Sunday afternoons, Joseph was proud of how his side performed, and ecstatic for what it could mean for Grenada in the future.
"It was such a tremendous experience for me, and my country," said Joseph outside of Gillette Stadium on Tuesday morning. "My country loves Americans, so we were excited to have the chance to play against them, and have their team come down to Grenada. Everyone was treated with class, too, and I'm proud of that. We're just so grateful to have been able to have that opportunity."
Class being the operative word as the U.S. side was actually cheered by the Grenadian fans upon entering the stadium on Sunday afternoon. Longtime American defender Marcelo Balboa commented on the ESPN2 broadcast that it was the first time he can ever remember seeing that happen during qualifying. And he's right. Usually, the Yanks are met with loud choruses of boos, insults, flung hot dogs, spilled beer on their heads, well-aimed AA batteries and, the worst, bags of urine hurled from the upper deck.
Not this time, though. Throughout the two-game series, Grenada's players, coaches and fans kept smiling no matter what was going on. There seemed to be a collective understanding that just making it to the second round of CONCACAF qualifying was a baby step that needed to be taken, and that playing a team like the United States, fresh off a quarterfinal appearance in the 2002 World Cup and ranked ninth in the world, would only further help develop their national team.
For a side that hails from a tiny island with a population of 90,000, and doesn't even have all its players making a living playing soccer, this matchup represented opportunity.
"That was one of the dreams of our players - to have people watch us," said Joseph, whose squad advanced to face the U.S. after beating Guyana in its first round series by an aggregate score of 8-1. "My teammates knew there'd be scouts there from MLS, so they were excited to try and make a name for themselves."
And a few of them did. Jason Roberts, who plays in the English First Division for Wigan Athletic, was dangerous in both matches and displayed a strong ability to create space for himself. He could probably hold his own in any league in the world. Also raising a few eyebrows were captain Anthony Modeste, left back Franklin Baptiste and midfielder Ricky Charles.
"Those are the guys who want to play in MLS," said Joseph. "And I thought they were great. Maybe now, they'll get a chance."
Overall, Joseph thought the team's play over the two matches was as good as could be expected. And definitely better than what one would normally expect out of a team ranked 138th in the FIFA rankings nestled right between Ethiopia and Sri Lanka.
"We put up a fight," said Joseph. "We did OK in the first game, and much better in the second game. We showed we can play."
Being one of the few Grenadians who is known throughout the region and plays in a strong league, Joseph was counted on heavily during the series. In the team's 5-3-2 formation, the 26-year-old played as the central midfielder who the team would look to play through whenever it got possession. Unfortunately for Joseph, those times were few and far between, as the relentless U.S. attack forced the Grenadians to retreat into a shell throughout the entire first match. And in the second match, the rain made it too difficult to do much more than play long balls down the flank in hopes of then getting a serve into the box.
"It was definitely difficult for me in the midfield," he said. "It was like being a kid in a candy store. They had so many sweets. With (Claudio) Reyna, (Landon) Donovan and (DaMarcus) Beasley, there's only so much we could do. But, at the same time, it was great because it was the first time I got to be on the field with guys like Reyna and Kasey Keller. I had only seen them on TV before. And they play in a league where everyone wants to be.
"So it was a great experience from top to bottom."
It did have its drawbacks, though. During the second half on Sunday, Joseph injured himself while going for a loose ball.
"Me and Claudio were shoulder-to-shoulder," said Joseph. "And I landed funny on the wet grass."
After being carted off to the sideline during the 60th minute, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound midfielder tried to return onto the field, but almost immediately pulled up lame. Showing the respect they have for Joseph, the ball was quickly kicked out of bounds by the USA so that he could be substituted in the 65th minute even though he remained standing the entire time.
Joseph has a strained hip flexor and a pulled quadriceps muscle, which will sideline him for three weeks to a month. His absence from the Revolution lineup won't help matters for Steve Nicol, as his injury-riddled side has limped out to a 2-7-3 start, which includes an abysmal 1-4-1 record at home. Joseph's return will most likely come right before the All-Star Game and the start of the second half of the season, which is when the Revs have come to life in each of the past two years.
"It's tough to be hurt right now because I know that we're struggling," said Joseph, also acknowledging the injuries to Joe-Max Moore (right knee sprain), Taylor Twellman (right hamstring), Brian Kamler (left hamstring) and Rusty Pierce (quadriceps contusion). "Hopefully, right around the time I get back, we'll be at full strength and start to make our run."
Four quick ones
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Last great movie I saw: How High.
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Favorite player to use on PlayStation: Thierry Henry, Arsenal.
Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs