WORLD CUP: Grenada-Guyana series opens Saturday

The United States gets its first glimpse of its first obstacle on the road to the 2006 World Cup when Grenada and Guyana meet in the first leg of their first-round qualifying series Saturday at the National Stadium in St. George's, Grenada.

Neither team is ranked highly in the Caribbean -- Grenada is 8th in the Caribbean zone in the latest FIFA rankings; Guyana is 18th -- but both teams enter the series full of optimism.

Grenada is led by New England Revolution Shalrie Joseph, who emerged as one of the top defensive midfielders in his first season in MLS.

Grenada features two players who starred last fall as seniors in the NCAA Division II ranks: USC-Spartanburg striker Ricky Charles, the No. 3 scorer in Division II with 18 goals and 16 assists, and Southern New Hampshire midfielder Anthony Augustine.

Grenada coach Alister Debellotte will also get help from two European-based players, though neither plays at a high level. Byron Bubb, a midfielder, plays for Aylesbury United, last in England's Ryman Premier League, and striker Kemon Thomas spends most of his time with the reserve team of Hungarian club MTK.

Another Grenadian, Anthony Modeste, had an unsuccessful tryout with MLS's D.C. United this winter.

Grenada will be without its biggest star, striker Jason Roberts, who was recently acquired by Wigan Athletic on a $2.2 million transfer in its bid to gain promotion to the English Premier League.

Guyana, where soccer ranks far behind cricket in popularity, had not played an international match in 16 months until it traveled to Barbados, where it upset the Bajan Rockets, 2-0, Feb. 15 on goals by Neil Hernandez and Gregory ''Jackie Chan'' Richardson. The victory was the first for the Guyanese over Barbados in a decade. Barbados is exempt from the first round of CONCACAF qualifying.

Brazilian technical director Neider Dos Santos has had 26 Guyanese players in training since Jan. 25 after looking at players brought in for tryouts from Trinidad & Tobago, neighboring Suriname and the United States, as well as Guyana's local clubs. Unfortunately, Dos Santos has had only one other look at his team. Guyana also beat a Guyana Football League all-star team, 2-0.

Guyana will host the return match in its series against Grenada March 14 at the Blairmont ground in Berbice.

The United States will face the winner of the Grenada-Guyana series this summer in the second round of World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF zone.

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