COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Not long after the US national team’s memorable but equally miserable win on Friday night, a shivering Jozy Altidore eased himself into the hot tub in the home locker room at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and offered a moment of reflection.
“Guys,” Altidore told his teammates, “we just played one for the books.”
That was one of the understatements of the night after the Americans’ 1-0 win over Costa Rica in a vital CONCACAF World Cup qualifier. The US team – who worked out all week in spotless weather conditions in Denver and will play next week in almost certainly balmier temperatures in Mexico City – gutted out 90 minutes of soccer on a night washed out by a driving snowstorm on the Colorado front range, and forever put their boot print on one of the strangest matches played in recent memory played before a sold out crowd of 19,374.
“It's been a perfect week in Denver until it started snowing two hours before kickoff,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said. “Probably not like any other game we've witnessed, or certainly [that] the US has played in since I've been involved, for many years.”
The strangest part? Take your pick. US defender Geoff Cameron helped a stadium crew member shovel the field during a stoppage in the second half. Midfielder Jermaine Jones (above) watched his afro turn white, and the Twitter hashtag “#snofro” was born. The head of the marketing department for the Colorado Rapids picked up a shovel and chipped in where he could.
Or maybe it was when head referee Joel Aguilar appeared to call the match to a final halt in the 55th minute because of deteriorating conditions, prompting players and officials from both teams to approach the El Salvador official for an explanation. As it turned out, it was all a precautionary measure to allow the stadium crew time to shovel the end and side lines, a constant effort throughout the evening as the snow piled up to several inches on the field.
A number of US players said they heard Costa Rican players and coaches pleading for the game to be stopped, but head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he never expected the game to end after a brief conversation with Aguilar.
“[The Costa Ricans] really wanted to stop it,” Cameron said. “But there was no point in stopping it, we were already stuck playing in it anyway.”
Added Altidore: “We were 60 minutes into it, so we might as well finish the game. We just wanted to finish it.”
Neither team managed to build much offensive momentum for extended periods of time during the match, especially as the conditions began to deteriorate rapidly in the second half. The winning goal from Clint Dempsey (right) in the 16th minute came before the wind died down and the heavy snow began to fall, making the second half a slog through conditions that even some MLS and European-hardened American players had never seen in their professional careers.
“It was exactly what it looked like,” Altidore said of the weather. “At times you couldn’t see, sometimes the ball was coming to me and I was kicking snow instead of the ball.”
Klinsmann praised the hardy play of this team in the conditions, though he clearly lamented a missed opportunity for the US team to make a marked jump on its play following a 2-1 loss to Honduras in the first Hexagonal qualifier last month.
“For both teams it was tough to create a good passing game or chances,” Klinsmann said. “I wish the conditions would have stayed as they were in the beginning of the game … those are conditions that make it very difficult to judge players on a technical level, and we just had to adjust to the snow, battle it out, finish it off and move on."
Costa Rican officials said following the game they intend to pursue their options to protest the result because of the conditions and Aguilar’s insistence to play the match out, but a reversal seems highly unlikely.
For now, the match stands as a moment almost literally frozen in time, and one not soon forgotten by the US players or their fans.
“It was all about three points, and any way you do it, it’s okay,” defender Clarence Goodson said. “But I think this game will go down as one of the wildest qualifiers as far as the weather is concerned.”
Added Klinsmann: “Both teams would have loved to play on a beautiful green surface, but we had some fun anyway.”