Costa Rica’s Michael Barrantes (11) and the USMNT Jermaine Jones (13) tussle in the snow during the Snow Clasico in 2013. (AndyMead/YCJPhoto)
By Michael Lewis
Baby, it’s going to be cold outside.
The U.S. men’s national team is hoping for a pair of cold receptions for two Central American teams in World Cup qualifying over the next week and a half.
Instead of scheduling two home matches in warmer climates during the winter qualifying window, U.S. Soccer has opted for two cold-weather venues – Columbus, Ohio and St. Paul, Minn.
Both places, particularly the latter, will never be confused as paradise and garden spots of winter.
USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter felt that turnabout was fair play. After all, the USA has suffered in the heat and humidity of Central America and the Caribbean in dozens of qualifiers over the decades.
His strategy is simple: freeze out El Salvador and Honduras. The Americans host the El Salvadorans at Lower.com Field in Columbus on Thursday. After facing Canada in Hamilton, Ontario on Sunday, Jan. 30, they will welcome the Hondurans to Allianz Field in St. Paul on Wednesday, Feb. 2.
“Just as all the times we go down to Central America, and we’re playing in the humidity and the heat and sometimes the smog and the altitude at times, this is an opportunity to us to gain an advantage on on our opponents,” head coach Berhalter said. “They’re all coming from the equator. It’s going to be really difficult for them to deal with these conditions. They’re going to take a couple breaths in and it’s going to hit them like they’d never been hit before.
“Our guys, who have been playing in Europe in cooler temperatures … will be ready to go and we see this as a big window for us.”
According to weather.com, Thursday’s forecast in Columbus calls for sub-freezing temperatures. Ohio’s capital is expected to have a high of 33 degrees and a low of 24 degrees, with a 15 percent of precipitation.
For the Ground Hog Day encounter in St. Paul, the long-range forecast calls for a high of 21 degrees and a low of three degrees. There also is a 31 percent chance of p.m. snow showers, weather.com reported.
In case you were wondering, weather.com forecasted a high of 21 degrees and a low of 13 degrees for the USA-Canada qualifier in Hamilton, Ontario on Jan. 30.
This isn’t the first time the USMNT has played in less ideal conditions for a WCQ in the states.
In 2001, the USMNT hosted Mexico in a 2002 World Cup qualifier in 28-degree temperatures. The Americans won the encounter, 2-0, the first of the five dos a cero results.
“The Mexican players are used to warm weather and a lot of the U.S. players are used to cold weather,” U.S. international Chris Armas said at the time. “The colder the better. If that happens to be an advantage, we will take it.”
In 2013, the Americans defeated Costa Rica, 1-0, in a WCQ during a snowstorm in Commerce City, Colo.
Now, there will be three cold encounters over a period of three days, two in the USA.
USMNT players said to bring it on.
“I’m really excited,” center back Walker Zimmerman said. “I look back at some of my first times watching the men’s national team and seeing that game in Colorado against Costa Rica sticks out in my head. I was even talking to my wife over the break. I wanted to be freezing. I wanted to be cold. I want snow. I want to be a part of something so iconic that I saw and like really remember growing up. So, I think the guys are ready to embrace it, embrace the cold. It’ll be really good environment for us.”
Midfielder Paul Arriola agreed.
“I’ve played in some cold weather before, and I think most of most of the players on this team have,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us. We’re going to embrace it. We’re going to be ready. The fans will be there, regardless of the conditions. Our goal is to go out there and win and and play the best of the best of our ability.”
Every player has his own way of dealing with the cold.
When he played in Germany, Berhalter learned to deal with freezing temperatures.
“It’s a mindset, it really is,” he said. “It is important to drink warm liquid in the locker room and potentially wear gloves and stuff. I put Vaseline on (my) feet. I played in Germany when it was minus 15 Celsius, minus 20 Celsius.”
That translated into five and minus four degrees Fahrenheit, respectively.
“I played with short sleeves,” he added. “It’s mind over matter in this case. Once you get running, once you get sweating, I think you’re good to go.”
Beyond the cold, the Canada game in Hamilton will bring its own unique conditions because Tim Hortons Field has artificial turf.
“Each surface obviously plays in different ways,” Zimmerman said. “But at the same time, the main focus for us is going to be our starting points. It’s going to be the intensity, the competitiveness, our ability to come out and dictate how the game is going to go. The turf becomes a secondary point.
“It’s not a conversation of be careful about how you play the ball because it might skip up a little bit or might die a little bit. Sure, some things like that maybe mentioned but it’s not going to be the primary focus for our group. It’s going to be all about our mentality, our starting points, our tactics. We’ll be excited just to be playing, representing their country, and that’s going to take precedent over any type of field conditions.”