No longer is soccer the sole sport in which fans can witness players from the same team compete against each other in a meaningful international contest, but the literal world of soccer is still unique in the importance, intensity and frequency of its international competitions.
And save for the World Cup itself, there are no matches more significant than World Cup qualifiers in which each team is fighting to win the right to compete in the biggest single sporting event on earth.
So when defender Jimmy Conrad and forward Scott Sealy suit up on Wednesday night in Hartford, Conn., for the United States and Trinidad and Tobago respectively, it won't be just another match for the Kansas City Wizards teammates.
The U.S. is likely two victories away from reaching Germany 2006 while Trinidad and Tobago is fighting to stay alive as both enter the last five contests in the final round of qualification. The two won't be the only teammates to line up against each other -- New England Revolution attackers Taylor Twellman and Steve Ralston could be in a U.S. uniform, facing club mate Avery John for T&T.
"It's a good opportunity to get points; we're playing on our home turf in the next two. Trinidad has its back to the wall. They're going to be playing for everything, and they are going to try to do their best to smack it down," said Conrad.
"Scott and I have already joked about it, but playing against each other would be pretty fun. It's pretty clear what needs to be done; it's now just a matter of going out there and executing."
Conrad's steady play at center back under Bruce Arena's watchful eye at the recently completed CONCACAF Gold Cup gives the Temple City, Calif., native a fighting chance to earn his first cap in a World Cup qualifier after earning his first six caps in helping the U.S. capture the Gold Cup title.
"It's hard to say until I get into camp. We have, I think, a total of five defenders in there, so we can speculate about how many guys are going to be [on the back line]," said Conrad. "We'll have a couple days of training and you just try to make your mark and go from there."
Conrad and many of his fellow U.S. internationals who ply their trade in MLS, has been playing nearly nonstop when one considers MLS regular season action, the Gold Cup, the MLS All-Star Game, U.S. Open Cup competition, and the continuation of the MLS season.
"No, not too much [of a rest]," Conrad said. "But that's what hotel beds are for."
On the other hand, Sealy has been causing defenders sleepless nights. The 24-year-old Wake Forest product has jumped to the head of the MLS rookie goal scoring table with two goals in the last three games to bring his season total to seven and to help Kansas City win their last three matches.
The quick and agile forward has also gained a bit of attention for his somewhat curious goal-scoring celebration that has been mistakenly described as a reverse slam-dunk. More known for his swimming exploits than his basketball abilities, the affable Sealy laughed at the label and gave his own description.
"It's like a punch to the sky -- I don't see anything in it. It just means something to me, sort of like an upper cut," he said.
But like Conrad, Sealy, who has earned nine caps for T&T, is serious in his endeavor to solidify his spot on his national team's roster.
Sealy has not played for Trinidad and Tobago since technical director Leo Beenhakker took over the side in May, but with T&T gaining only four points in the first five qualifying matches and currently sitting in fifth place, they need all the help they can get to become one of the three teams from CONCACAF who will earn automatic entrance to World Cup 2006.
"He's been scoring goals and making things happen; I would have been surprised if they didn't call him in," Conrad said of Sealy, who scored in his June 2004 national team debut in a first-round qualifier against the Dominican Republic.
"They have a couple other forwards who have experience in Dwight Yorke and Stern John, but I think you could bring Scott in at least for the experience. I could see them bringing in Scotty with about 20 minutes to go when maybe we're tired a little bit."
Said Sealy: "Hopefully I'll get some time to prove myself, because I've been away for a few months from the national team. It's going to be a nice change for me. Right now I'm sharp enough to be playing."
Should Sealy come at Conrad on the pitch, Conrad believes their familiarity will not provide a clear advantage for either.
"I think it goes both ways," said the 28-year-old Conrad. "He knows what works for him and what he thinks is going to work against me and vice versa."
Sealy agreed but believes he'll be able to turn his knowledge into success against other MLS players who will be with the U.S.
"I come up against Jimmy every day in practice, but it will be a good chess match because he also knows me pretty well too. If we do happen to match up against each other, I'll keep the odds at break even on who gets the advantage," he said. "But I think I do have advantages with the other defenders as well. I've probably come up against most of them during the season. So hopefully I can use that to my advantage."
As far as the outcome of the match, Sealy was logical in his prognostication.
"This is the first time I'm going to be under this coach, so I don't know his strategy. But you're not going to come here and be ultra-conservative because we need three points," Sealy said. "We know the U.S. is a very organized team, and we'll have to play decently and try and break them down and try to be as efficient as possible. But if it doesn't work out and we only get a tie, that's a step in the right direction."
Although both desire a win for their respective side above all, the Wizards teammates ultimately hope to have more in common.
"One game at a time, you know," Conrad said. "I think the goal for everybody is to do well and get called in for the next one."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.