Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Soccer in the snow: should USMNT's victory count?

On Friday, the US Men's National Soccer team defeated Costa Rica in a crucial W0rld Cup Qualifying encounter. The match was played at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, in Denver - the famed "Mile High" city - and amid torrents of snow.

The final result was 1-0 to the home team, who were spurred on by an excellent performance from in-form goalkeeper Brad Guzan, and an opportunist's goal from Spurs striker Clint Dempsey.  The result leave the US second in the CONCACAF qualifying table, while Costa Rica (who appeared at the big dance in 1990, 2002 and 2006) are affixed firmly to that same table's lowest regions.

The upshot of the match, however, has been that the Costa Rican Football Federation has filed an official complaint about the match, citing concerns for their players' physical wellbeing.

One wonders if the complaint is based not so much upon player safety concerns, but in Los Ticos having to play in a stadium which received 2.35" of snow.  Such conditions would be very unfamiliar to many of the Costa Rican players: the average low temperature for Costa Rica during it's coldest month is 17 degrees celsius.

But is it such a crime for a home team to play at in advantageous conditions?   Bolivia's national team is remarkable at home and poor away due to the altitude level of their national stadium.  Qatar - and the other Arabic nations - play in suffering heat.  Each of these climatic or location advantages produce results for the home team.  That's what home-and-away ties are supposed to do - give each team one match at advantage and one at disadvantage.

And, in the immortal words of every youth coach, ever: "Both teams have to play with the cold, not just one".

Sticking points faced by the USSF include it's sheer size, varied climates and stadia, which are in stark contrast to opposition nations boasting only one suitable major arena (like Jamaica, Costa Rica or El Salvador).  While temperature must have entered discussion in the selection of Denver for this qualifier, the rotating stadium system employed by the US Soccer Federation (USSF) means proving any forthcoming allegations of blatant favouritism would be extremely difficult.

Legislation against venues and their weather conditions is a slippery slope, as FIFA's aborted case against high-altitude football grounds proved in the latter part of the last decade.  While it seems rather ruthless for a country of 300 million to seek such benefits from their home stadia - especially when playing a country whose population is roughly the same size as Boston - they have every right to do so.

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