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USA vs. Grenada, 2022 Concacaf Nations League: Scouting Grenada

The USMNT opens the competition against a Caribbean foe.

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Soccer: CONCACAF Gold Cup Soccer-Grenada at Qatar Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

In the midst of preparing for the 2022 World Cup, the United States Men’s National Team begins the journey to defend the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League title. The first opponent on the schedule is the island nation of Grenada, currently ranked 170th in the world by FIFA. The match is scheduled for Friday, June 10th at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas.

This is the fourth meeting between the two nations and first since July of 2009, with the USMNT holding a 3-0-0 advantage. Grenada failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, eliminated in the first round. The Spice Boys were promoted to League A in the CONCACAF Nations League by topping Group A with a 4-0-2 record, finishing ahead of French Guiana, Belize, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. The current edition of the competition opened a loss and encouraging 2-2 draw against El Salvador.

Grenada is led by Michael Findlay, appointed to the role in January of 2021 after serving as the Canadian Premier League’s Director of Football Development. The 58-year-old Canadian previously worked as caretaker manager for Canada in 2016 and 2017 in between the tenures of Benito Floro and Octavio Zambrano. In his current position, he has compiled a 1-8-2 record, the bright spots a 1-0 victory over the U.S. Virgin Islands and a scoreless draw against Gibraltar, the program’s first venture outside of the CONCACAF region.

The program is steadily growing due to a strong recruitment program and healthy mentality. “Our best piece is their will to win, their will to want to compete,” Findlay told El Salvador Fan Club. “They want to be better. We want them to be better, and that’s a fire inside them. They [want] to gain respect within the region. At times, Caribbean teams don’t come with a lot of respect because they don’t get the opportunities to spend a lot of time together. This group of players I have a lot of respect for because they want to compete and they want to fight.”

Findlay named a 26-player roster for the international window. The group is mostly split between call-ups from the domestic GFA Premier League, various levels of the American soccer pyramid, and the English lower divisions. The group is missing some of the more intriguing names that populated last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup preliminary and tournament squad, notably Aaron Pierre (Shrewsbury Town), Omar Beckles (Leyton Orient), Regan Charles-Cook (Ross County), Oliver Norburn (Peterborough United), and Sheldon Baptiste (Brentford).

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GOALKEEPERS (3): Jason Belfon (Paradise), Reice Charles-Cook (Dartford), Trishawn Thomas (Queens Park Rangers SC)

DEFENDERS (8): Benjamin Ettienne (Charleston Battery), Kwesi Paul (Peachtree City), A. J. Paterson (Charleston Battery), Kraig Noel-McLeod (Enfield Town), Tyrone Sterling (Dulwich Hamlet), Christian James (Camerhogne), Kayden Harrack (Queens Park Rangers), Lemoud Ogiste (Sunsetters FC)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Alexander McQueen (Indy Eleven), Shavon John-Brown (El Paso Locomotive), Kwazim Theodore (Unattached), Josh Gabriel (Westchester Flames), Steffon Abraham (Paradise), Ashley Charles (Wealdstone), Leon Braveboy (Hard Rock FC)

FORWARDS (8): Romar Frank (Camerhogne), Kairo Mitchell (Notts County), Saydrel Lewis (Real Juventud), Dejon Noel-Williams (Braintree Town), Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong (Aldershot Town), Jamal Charles (Real Sociedad), Kharlton Belmar (Colorado Springs Switchbacks), Lucas Akins (Mansfield Town)

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The manager deploys the standard 4-2-3-1 formation with two holding midfielders. In recent international windows, he has exhibited a tendency to use the same lineup and players in every match. While not possessing the individual talent of other Caribbean nations, the squad has strong chemistry and works together as a unit, proactively attempting to play the ball out of the back instead of engaging in more cynical tactics.

The defense puts multiple players behind the ball and maintaining a narrow formation. El Salvador experienced success playing “Route One” soccer, drilling long balls and turning proceedings into a footrace. When in possession, the run-of-play passed through the wings and focused on crossing, combatting Grenada’s compact final third.

Projected Grenada Starting XI (via BuildLineup.com)

After almost a decade of relying upon Jason Belfon at goalkeeper, Grenada appears to have turned to relative newcomer Reice Charles-Cook. The English-born 28-year-old is an Arsenal Academy graduate, embarking upon a 13-club journeyman career. He is currently with Dartford in the sixth-tier National League South, displaying a style that is a little hectic, making acrobatic saves but surrendering rebounds in dangerous positions. His distribution is above-average, with long balls that travel a surprising distance and lead to the occasional breakaway.

Kayden Harrack, an 18-year-old in the Queens Park Rangers youth set-up, could be the great hope for the program after making his senior international debut in March. He is described as “a strong, tough-tackling defender with a good range of passing.” The Charleston Battery’s A.J. Paterson has an aerial presence and “eats up space.” The 26-year-old can play anywhere on the back-line and at defensive midfielder, serving as a steady metronome in possession. Another center back option is 6’2” Kwesi Paul, who earned a start in a recent friendly against Andorra and was on the books at USL League Two’s Peachtree City MOBA.

Versatile midfielder-defender Tyrone Sterling should line up at left back. The 34-year-old captain contributed two goals in 31 appearances for Dulwich Hamlet last season, an aggressive presence in the box. On the other side of the formation is Benjamin Ettienne, who joined the Charleston Battery during the winter transfer window. The teenager registered five goals and three assists during CONCACAF U-20 Championship qualifying and earned the Fighting Spirit Match Award after a strong performance at last summer’s Gold Cup. His club manager, Conor Casey, describes the modern fullback as “quite solid defensively” and strong on the attack.

Tottenham Hotspur Academy graduate Alexander McQueen joined Indy Eleven this season and immediately claimed a spot in the starting lineup. His speed and ability to link up with teammates make him an asset, particularly when launching through balls. Ashley Charles accepted his first call-up to Grenada in March and started in the first match against El Salvador, a battler in the center of the pitch with a decent shot from free kicks. There’s also the potential for Kwazim Theodore of Dunstable Town, normally an attacker, to play in a deeper role.

Born in Virginia, Kharlton Belmar currently competes for Colorado Switchbacks FC in the USL Championship. The 29-year-old uses his body well and has a nose for goal, possessing enough speed and agility to open up the space for a shot. Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong has been enjoying success with Aldershot Town in the Vanarama National League, moving to the club after stints with the Crystal Palace Academy and Dartford. His main move is to cut inside from the wing and curl a shot to the far post, also providing decent combination play. A consistent presence in the lineup since 2016, Shavon John-Brown is tenacious on both sides of the ball, pressing opponents and turning quickly to avoid tackles. He doesn’t light up the stat sheet but is an effective facilitator and serves as the linchpin for the attacking group.

Jamal Charles was the key player during the last Nations League run that delivered Grenada into League A, scoring six goals in as many matches. The six-foot-two C.D. Real Sociedad (Honduras) striker is the typical target man who is reliant on service and latches onto all manner of loose balls. He should be the main marking priority on set pieces, possessing an impressive vertical jumping ability and willingness to bowl over defenders. If in the lineup, Kairo Mitchell of Notts County could also pose an issue, an intelligent attacker who manages to find himself in the right place to receive passes.

After facing World Cup-bound Morocco and Uruguay, Grenada should be a slightly easier foe, a program on the rise that is poised to enjoy increased success over the next decade. Expect the USMNT to run rampant over the opponent, taking advantage on the counter-attack and exploiting the wide spaces. Shock results are known to happen but rarely on home soil with a squad currently enjoying decent form.

The match is scheduled for Friday, June 10th at 10:00pm Eastern, 7:00pm Pacific. Viewing options include ESPN+, TUDN USA, UniMás, and FUBO TV (free trial).