To get to the World Cup in Mexico next summer, the United States national soccer team must get past Trinidad & Tobago, Costa Rica, Canada and Honduras.
But first, it must get past Michael Maurice.
Maurice, 27, is captain of the Trinidad & Tobago national team. More important, he is also the team's goalkeeper and its most experienced player.
Last Wednesday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Maurice came within two minutes of putting a sizable dent in the United States' World Cup hopes. A goal by Seattle's Mark Peterson with 1:40 to play, however, earned the U.S. team a 2-1 victory and mathematically eliminated Trinidad & Tobago from advancing.
Today at 2 p.m. at El Camino College in Torrance, Maurice and his teammates would like to return the favor. They will, in the words of Coach Roderick Warner, be playing for "national pride."
Such is the stock answer from teams with nothing left to win, but the Trinidad & Tobago players have other reasons not to simply roll over and play dead.
They believe, for example, that they were robbed of a goal in St. Louis when what appeared to be a certain penalty was not called by the Canadian referee. Also, they were less than thrilled at being forced to play on artificial turf, which they are unaccustomed to doing.
Last and most important, Maurice said the players are disappointed that they were denied the opportunity to play in front of their own fans. By rights, today's game should have been played in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.
However, because the Trinidad & Tobago national soccer federation is experiencing financial difficulties, it sold its home game to the United States for a reported $40,000.
Whether that was a good buy or whether the United States will extend its 35-year record of failing to qualify for the World Cup might well begin to be answered today.
A loss by the U.S. team would leave Costa Rica, the third member of the qualifying group, needing only to split its home-and-home series (May 26 and 31) with the United States in order to join Canada and Honduras in the final qualifying group.