COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Christian Pulisic and his teammates wore long pants and gloves as training began in 19 degree weather. Staff shoveled snow off the field while American players “warmed" up.
Coach Gregg Berhalter donned a gray ski cap with a U.S. Soccer Federation logo, a blue winter coat beneath his red pinnie.
Thanks to American scheduling, World Cup qualifying this month is a Cold War even chillier than “La Guerra Fria,” the 2-0 win over Mexico in 2001 at old Columbus Crew Stadium. That Feb. 28 qualifier was played in a relatively balmy 29 degrees, the same temperature as the infamous Snow Clasico, a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica during a blizzard at Commerce City, Colorado, on March 22, 2013.
The match on Thursday night against El Salvador at new lower.com Field is likely to set a record low temperature for a U.S. home qualifier. That mark probably will be broken six days later when the Americans host Honduras at St. Paul, Minnesota.
“It’s obviously cold out here, but something that I’ve been used to growing up in New York and playing academy games throughout the winter on turf fields," American midfielder Tyler Adams said Tuesday. "You’re used to this, pushing the snow to the side and being able to play and enjoy it. The cold is not going to stop us from doing what we do. If anything, it’s just going to cause us to run a little bit more to stay warm.”
The U.S. opened qualifying on Sept. 2 with a 0-0 draw at El Salvador, where the temperature was 72 degree at Estadio Cuscatlán. With FIFA creating the January window after the one-year delay in qualifying caused by the pandemic, Berhalter chose cold-weather sites to minimize travel for his team and maximize discomfort for the Central Americans.
In the event of weather that turns St. Paul unplayable, the USSF has lined up Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas, as a backup site.
Pulisic, Adams and Weston McKennie could start together for only the second time, the first since an exhibition against Ecuador in March 2019.
Matt Turner is the likely starter in goal — it would be his first competitive match since Nov. 30 — after Zack Steffen didn't travel because of back stiffness.
The U.S. is second in the North and Central American and Caribbean region with 15 points after eight of 14 games, one point behind Canada. With a strong window, Berhalter's team could move to the brink of a World Cup berth, the Americans' first since 2014.
Mexico and Panama have 14 points each, followed by Costa Rica (nine), Jamaica (seven), El Salvador (six) and Honduras (three). The top three teams qualify and a fourth team advances to a playoff, likely against New Zealand.
Forward Gyasi Zardes, a California native who has played for Major League Soccer’s Crew since 2018, practiced at Ohio Health Performance Center, adjacent to old Crew Stadium, and concluded “today, it’s actually a beautiful day.”
“The sun is out. The snow is cleared off the field. So we’re embracing it, and we’re looking forward to playing in this weather,” he said. “Not every day you get to play in extreme weather like this.”
After preparing in Indianapolis, El Salvador moved to Columbus.
“I played in Colorado in a snowy game when you couldn’t see where out of bounds was on the field and using an orange ball,” Adams said. “In Germany, it’s cold. Not quite as cold as here, yet, but it’s getting there. So we’re used to it.”
Notes: The referee will be Bryan Lopez of Guatemala, who worked the Americans' 3-0 exhibition loss to Venezuela in 2019. Adonai Escobedo of Mexico will be the Video Assistant Referee as CONCACAF uses VAR in qualifying for the first time. ... Adams on McKennie: “Right now, Weston is scoring goals for fun. So I’m going to hold him to it and put a little bit extra pressure on him that he needs to score some goals now. So every time we get a set piece and there’s a good delivery, I'm thinking that he's going to score.” ... Defender DeAndre Yedlin was not at training following the cancellation of his flight from Istanbul to New York on Monday.
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