The tiny Turks and Caicos Islands (or TCI for short) are gritting their teeth and hoping for the best. The British overseas dependency of 20,000 inhabitants have had a short yet rough history in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying, losing 14-0 to St. Kitts and Nevis in the Korea/Japan 2002 preliminaries and 7-0 to Haiti ahead of Germany 2006.
But this is a new Turks and Caicos, or so the team's USA-based lone professional Gavin Glinton tells FIFA.com. "I really think we have the talent, heart and spirit we need to get a result," said the recent San Jose Earthquakes signing. "Last time we didn't have a stadium to play in and we had in effect two away games in Miami against a very strong Haiti side."
The result was somewhat predictable with Turks and Caicos losing the first leg 5-0. The second was a moral victory as they kept the score to a respectable 2-0, earning a rousing ovation from the Haitian fans. That TCI side was cheerful and homespun to say the least, with the islands' fire chief wearing the armband and the ages of the players ranging from 16 to 45.
Luckily enough for Turks and Caicos, Glinton is a patriotic sort. He speaks with an American accent and left his birthplace of Grand Turk for California before the age of four, but the dynamic striker signed up ahead of the Haiti clash despite being eligible to play for USA and Guyana, through his mother's bloodlines.
"Some people might laugh, but I feel so proud to play for TCI that it's hard to put into words," said the forward. "I couldn't be happier to be a part of building football here."
As the only professional in the side, Glinton is often approached by his team-mates for advice, guidance or just a glimpse of the game beyond the six-team domestic league on the islands. After all, last season with Los Angeles Galaxy, he shared a locker-room and pitch with one David Beckham.
"They sure do ask me about Beckham a lot," Glinton, 28, added with a chuckle to FIFA.com. "But even before that they were always asking me about what it was like at a professional football stadium and out on the field. 'Am I doing this right, how would they do this in the pros?'"
Despite the lack of professional pedigree in the Turks and Caicos side, Glinton is nonetheless impressed with the amount of quality and passion in the build-up to the St. Lucia series. This time around the team is putting in the hard hours and training as a unit rather than being thrown together by circumstance.
It is a cruel and steep learning curve but TCI are showing improvement ahead of the 6 February first leg, which will, incidentally, be their first-ever game on home soil. "I am really impressed with the ability and most of all, the heart, of these players," Glinton remarked.
"The amount of effort they are putting in is just amazing considering most of them are working hard jobs for eight or nine hours a day. Being able to play at home will help."
Glinton's rise and fall and rise
Far from being a spoiled professional, Glinton is devoted, perhaps more than anyone, to the game he loves and the islands he left as an infant. Turning professional in 2001 after his university days, he spent a year with LA Galaxy and then half a season with Dallas Burn before suffering an injury that threatened to end his career. "My ankle was destroyed," he says thoughtfully. "I was sure it was all over."
A gutted Glinton decided to try the other side of the touchline and spent two years as assistant coach at Bradley University, where he played four successful years before joining the MLS. It was there that he became more philosophical about the game, coaching young men who play for the love of the game rather than lucrative pay.
"I learned a lot about the game in those two years," he told FIFA.com. "I learned a lot about myself too." Slowly, he began kicking around with his college charges and re-building his confidence and eventually landed in the USA's second tier with the Charleston Battery in 2005. It was there that the striker got his second chance, and he never let it go.
With a burst of new-found form he became a fan favourite and was re-called to the MLS in 2006 by then Galaxy coach Frank Yallop. The two will be reunited again next season at San Jose. "You don't get too many second chances in life," he concluded softly.
"I just want to keep doing my best and contribute to building football here on the islands while I'm at it. Maybe someday I'll coach this team or be a technical director with the FA, I just want to do my part in helping TCI realise its potential.
First order of business for top man Glinton on this noble and refreshing adventure: a first goal in FIFA World Cup qualifying and an aggregate win over St. Lucia to book a date with giants Guatemala in the next round.