On Friday, the United States men's national team takes on St. Vincent and the Grenadines in a World Cup qualifier in St. Louis. There's an excellent chance that you've never seen St. Vincent and the Grenadines play soccer, nor have you ever heard of their players. And honestly, it's among the least popular Caribbean islands for tourists to travel to, so we'll forgive you if you've never heard of the country at all.
You should probably get educated before you watch them take on the USMNT, and we'd like to help you out.
Where is St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
Credit: Google Maps
That's just north of Grenada, just west of Barbados and just south of St. Lucia.
What's their soccer team's nickname?
The Vincy Heat, which is honestly a bottom-tier international soccer team nickname.
Tell me some cool stuff about them
There are just over 100,000 people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which is roughly the population of Greenville, N.C. They used to be a French, then British colony, and achieved independence in 1979. They were the 181st most populous country on earth based on most recent census data and their official language is English, though most people speak Vincentian Creole, which sounds like a really badass language. They've produced some top cricketers for the West Indies, but no world class footballers.
They are also the world's leading producer of arrowroot, which I had never heard of until I started writing this post.
Credit: user graibeard on Flickr under Creative Commons license
Here are some really cool things about arrowroot, from Wikipedia.
Arrowroot makes clear, shimmering fruit gels and prevents ice crystals from forming in homemade ice cream. It can also be used as a thickener for acidic foods, such as Asian sweet and sour sauce. It is used in cooking to produce a clear, thickened sauce, such as a fruit sauce. It will not make the sauce go cloudy, like cornstarch, flour, or other starchy thickening agents would.
In the Victorian era it was used, boiled with a little flavouring added, as an easily digestible food for children and people with dietary restrictions. With today's greater understanding of its limited nutritional properties, it is no longer used in this way.
Joke's on you, my dietary restriction is that I can't eat foods with nutrients. If you like food with nutrients, they also produce an s-ton of bananas.
Are they any good at soccer?
Yes and no. Since there are a lot of countries in CONCACAF with three times the population or more, St. Vincent and the Grenadines have done very well to get this far into World Cup qualifying. They've beaten two countries who fit that description too -- Aruba and Guyana.
Previous qualifying tournaments have used a different format. Last time around, St. Vincent and the Grenadines got thrown into a group with Guatemala in the second round, and the Guatemalans obliterated everyone. In 2010, they faced Canada in a second round playoff and lost 7-1. They actually did really well in 2006 qualifying, when they were placed into a third-round group with eventual World Cup qualifiers Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago. They had one-goal losses against each of those teams and finished the group with a totally respectable goal differential of minus-seven, compared to the minus-22 put up by group-mates St. Kitts and Nevis.
Their best-ever player is center back Ezra Hendrickson, who had a very solid 12-year career in MLS. He's now an assistant for St. Vincent and the Grenadines while also coaching Seattle Sounders 2 full time. This has been a big boost to his country.
What does their team look like?
Most importantly, the guy with the coolest name on their squad is Jolanshoy McDowall.
As far as the actual soccer goes, Hendrickson's used his current position to get Oalex Anderson and Myron Samuel gigs with Sounders 2. For a team like St. Vincent and the Grenadines, having a couple of players that get access to world class training facilities is a massive boost. The top scorer in CONCACAF qualifying so far is 20-year-old Tevin Slater, who plays domestically. And, somehow, they've had multiple players signed by Finnish third-tier side Oulun Palloseura, which is a really weird pipeline to establish. Imagine moving from the Caribbean to this place.
Credit: user Estormiz on Wikipedia under Creative Commons license
They'll probably play pretty defensively against the United States, though that doesn't appear to be in their DNA. All of their most accomplished players are strikers and in their four games so far, they've scored nine goals and conceded eight.
According to CONCACAF, they've been lining up in a 4-3-3, with attacker/winger Cornelius Stewart playing in the center of midfield. That'll probably get dump trucked by the United States if they stick with it, but it would be great if they stuck to it and got tons of numbers forward on the counter.
Do they have a chance to make the Hex?
No, though this draw was extremely kind to them. Trinidad and Tobago was the weakest Pot 2 team, while Guatemala was arguably the next-weakest Pot 3 team after St. Vincent and the Grenadines. They might be able to avoid losing six straight, and they'd probably be pretty thrilled with any points at all.
Why should I want them to do well?
Here are a couple of quotes that sum up the reality that the Vincy Heat operate in. "This is a good achievement for us going on to the next round so as the coach said we can market our younger players," said captain Darren Hamlet. Most of the starters on St. Vincent and the Grenadines are in their early 20s, and a good performance or two in the third round of CONCACAF qualifying could be what gets them a tryout at with a fully professional team.
"We will have to send out in the Diaspora for guys who are interested to come and try out," said coach Cornelius Huggins, who sounds willing to take a look at anyone who'd like to play for the team. And that team, incredibly, beat two larger nations and gets to play the United States twice in competitive matches.
These kinds of underdogs are really common in CONCACAF, which is why CONCACAF rules. Also, if they actually do pull off one of the biggest upsets in international soccer history -- and hey, Antigua and Barbuda came close to clowning the USMNT four years ago -- Jurgen Klinsmann might actually get fired. War damn Vincy Heat, even if they really need a new nickname.