Torn between two teams
Grenada invite has Joseph conflicted
FOXBOROUGH — Should Shalrie Joseph play in the remaining 23 games of the Revolution season, he would become the team’s all-time appearance leader. This would distinguish him as a face of the franchise, a symbol of dedication and loyalty, a figure who has led the Revolution as team captain in good and bad times.
But Joseph received an offer that was difficult to refuse — to play for Grenada’s national team in the Gold Cup. He will play for the Revolution against the Los Angeles Galaxy tomorrow, then is scheduled to join Grenada for matches in Detroit, Miami, and New Jersey, meaning he would miss at least three MLS games.
Though Joseph requested a release from the Revolution, he said he could still decline the invitation before Grenada’s first game June 7.
“I’m still a little bit shocked at my decision, to be honest about it,’’ Joseph said. “I’ll see how it goes Saturday.
“My priority is MLS. This is where my work is, this is my job and nothing above that — other than family and my love of the game — is going to come in front of that. So, I’ll give it this week and see how I feel after the LA game.’’
Joseph is understandably conflicted.
The usual tension related to club-vs.-country choices is complicated by several factors. For one, there is the guilt trip component. Joseph is considered the country’s most accomplished native-born player, accentuating his importance to Grenada (pop. 110,000), by far the smallest entrant and a major underdog in the tournament. And he is in a contract season with the Revolution.
Revolution vice president of player personnel Michael Burns said Joseph informed the club of his decision Monday, the deadline for Gold Cup rosters to be submitted. The Revolution also will lose midfielder Benny Feilhaber to the US national team.
“The Gold Cup is something we don’t have the authority to say no to, and we wouldn’t say no to,’’ Burns said. “It’s the player’s decision. Shalrie asked for his release and we granted it — it’s his decision.’’
But considering Joseph’s status in Grenada, the choice did not seem to be totally his.
He first represented Grenada in 2001, making a strong impression before a crowd that included prime minister Keith Mitchell. Three years later, Joseph’s midfield play helped Grenada make a credible showing in World Cup qualifiers against the US, less than three months before Hurricane Ivan devastated the country.
Grenada’s recovery from disaster set back the progress of the national team. But the Spice Boyz put together a surprising performance in qualifying for the Gold Cup for the first time in 2009. Now, they are hoping to avoid another three-and-out showing (Grenada was outscored, 10-0, in ’09).
For Grenada, progress is measured by a single tie or victory, or at least a respectable goal differential.
“I feel the obligation I should represent my country when they come calling,’’ said Joseph. “I was looking at what’s more important to me, Grenada or MLS. I feel I need to represent my country.’’
Joseph, who turned 33 Tuesday, was 14 when he moved to Crown Heights in Brooklyn. He quickly found acceptance on the soccer field, going on to Bryant & Stratton College in Syracuse and graduating from St. John’s University.
Joseph had hoped to attract US national team interest, or at least gain the attention of his home team, the New York MetroStars. But no call-back came after two workouts with the MetroStars. So he went to the Windward Islands tournament as a Grenadian and, two years later, joined the Revolution.
Joseph became a starter in a Champions Cup game against LD Alajuelense in Costa Rica in March 2003, and has seldom been out of the lineup since.
There have been absences, resulting from a nightclub incident (2006) and a stint in the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health program (last year). But Joseph has mostly been front and center when it counted, possibly best all-around player in Revolution history.
Among the team’s all-time top scorers, Joseph is the only one to have played his entire professional career with the Revolution. Joseph has a chance to surpass Jay Heaps (243) as the Revolution’s games played leader.
But fidelity and longevity might not be strong factors in contract negotiations. Joseph might well lose a step or two in coming years, though his ability to play as a central defender could make him a viable performer for several more seasons.
“I’ve got to show them that I’m worth something to sign me back, to keep me here,’’ Joseph said. “My priority is with them but they understand this is my country and I have to represent when they call on me.
“I mean, I came in to them last year and tried to get a deal worked out and did the same thing early on this season. Heads butted a little bit early on and it didn’t work out. But right now I’ve been playing great, I’ve been doing what the team needs.
“Even though we haven’t been able to pick up points here and there, I think I’m still having a good season and I don’t want to sidetrack that by going to play the Gold Cup, to be honest.
“I’ve still got to weigh my decision. It’s definitely going to leave a big hole in the middle, and that’s what really worries me — that we’ve been playing well and just start to hit our stride and getting everybody back. Not having Marko [Perovic], that’s a huge loss. Not having Benny.’’
Grenada’s roster includes mostly home-based players, with defender Leon Johnson (Wycombe Wanderers) the only member of the Spice Boyz competing as high as the League 2 level in England.
“I spoke to a couple of people and they said, ‘Let’s make a last run at it and see what can happen,’ ’’ Joseph said. “We have a lot of quality players and the level is going to be better, our team is going to be good. It’s something I thought about.
“They sold a great deal to me and that influenced my decision. It’s really hard to leave the Revolution, to leave my team right now, to leave guys I’ve been training with every day, and to leave that hole in the middle.
“It’s something I’ve got to look in the mirror and make sure this is the right decision I’m making.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.