Wednesday, May 18 2022

The U.S. men’s national soccer team romped to a 3-0 victory over Honduras in St. Paul, Minnesota, Wednesday night. St. Paul in February sometimes gets cold. The temperature at Allianz Field dipped close to zero.

Two Honduran players, including the goalie, were removed from the game. According to Honduran officials, the two players were suffering from hypothermia and needed intravenous treatments.

This is not an international incident in the sense that troops are being marshalled and embassies are being closed, but, suffice, the Honduran travel party wasn’t too happy.

Even prior to the game, Honduras coach Dario Gomez was quoted as saying: “It’s not normal. It’s inconceivable that a power in every sense would bring you here to play a game and get a result. The game hasn’t started, but I can’t wait for it to end. Because it’s not for enjoying, it’s for suffering.”

After the game, U.S. defender Walker Zimmerman more or less confirmed this when he said, “To be honest, I don’t think they (Honduras) wanted any part of that (the cold) tonight. You could just tell, coming out for warmups — only sending out their starting 11, not coming out right after the half. …

“As soon as we got that first goal — especially the second goal — we felt we were in really good form and in control of the game.”

Honduras defenseman Wisdom Quaye (16) heads the ball away from the USMNT's Christian Pulisic.Honduras defenseman Wisdom Quaye (16) heads the ball away from the USMNT's Christian Pulisic.
Honduras defenseman Wisdom Quaye (16) heads the ball away from the USMNT’s Christian Pulisic.

USMNT remains in second place in Concacaf World Cup qualifiers standings

This was a huge victory for the USMNT. It kept them in second place in the Octagonal with three games remaining when the last window opens in March. It padded their goal differential advantage over third-place Mexico.

The U.S. didn’t punch its ticket for the World Cup, to be played later this year in the desert country of Qatar. But it got them close.

The top three teams in CONCACAF get automatic bids and the fourth-place team gets a play-in game against a team from Oceania — and at this stage, it’s almost inconceivable that the U.S. men aren’t in that mix, somewhere.

Yet there is much pearl-clutching happening in the wake of the victory in St. Paul. U.S. soccer fans embrace being miserable at every opportunity, and, above the carping over coach Gregg Berhalter’s rotation decisions, some are agitated about playing a game in a place where hypothermia is a real hazard.

Weston McKennie (8) reacts after scoring against Honduras.Weston McKennie (8) reacts after scoring against Honduras.
Weston McKennie (8) reacts after scoring against Honduras.

Outside of the soccer bubble, the frigidity of Wednesday night has brought others to attention. Why subject last-place Honduras to such conditions? Is that fair? Why even play in a 20,000-seat stadium in Minnesota when you can fill a 50,000 or even 80,000-seat bowl on one of the coasts? Is the U.S. that afraid of Honduras fans getting tickets?

To paraphrase Gomez, is a “power in every sense” that desperate to beat a little country on the equator?

Is this not patently unfair?

Bah.

Honduras' Juan Delgado (6) and Bryan Rochez (11) head the ball next to U.S. midfielder Kellyn Acosta.Honduras' Juan Delgado (6) and Bryan Rochez (11) head the ball next to U.S. midfielder Kellyn Acosta.
Honduras’ Juan Delgado (6) and Bryan Rochez (11) head the ball next to U.S. midfielder Kellyn Acosta.

The US Men’s National Soccer Team has a distinct home-field advantage

Berhalter originally planned to play the two home games in this window in Portland, Oregon, and San Jose, California, on either side of a game in Canada. When Canada moved the middle game from Vancouver to Hamilton, Ontario to cut down on travel, Berhalter moved his two home games to Columbus and St. Paul for travel reasons.

“We provided Honduras and their staff and the referees with warm-weather gear, traying to make it a safe environment to play in,” Berhalter said in his postgame. “You know, when we go down to those countries and it’s 90 degrees and its 90% dew point and it’s unbelievable humidity and guys are getting dehydrated and cramping up and getting heat exhaustion, that’s the nature of our competition. …

“We had to minimize travel. We knew we were going to be playing in cold weather in two of the games and we figured to do it in the third game as well, instead of switching climates. A cold spell came through, and it’s something we can’t control.”

The USMNT rarely, if ever, had a home-field advantage in qualifying until it played Mexico in Columbus on a late-February day in 2001. It was the first American soccer fortress. Over the past 20 years, MLS stadiums have popped up all over the country, and many of them have been used for qualifying.

Ticket controls, smaller venues and a growing fan base have expanded the collection of U.S. fortresses. The power in CONCACAF has tilted to the north — all the way to Canada, which at present has a commanding, first-place seat in the Octagon.

Sometimes it’s cold.

It’s the nature of the competition.

The USMNT went more than 11 years — from 1989 into 2001 — without winning a game in Central America.

The Americans were asked to play noon games when the temperature was 95 degrees and the humidity 95%. They were asked to switch venues at the last minute, from a new stadium in Guatemala City to a tiny field in the middle of a jungle. They’ve played against El Salvador at a neutral site in Honduras because San Salvador was too dangerous. They’ve had batteries, coins and bags of urine thrown at them in Costa Rica.

There’s a lot more — we could talk about CONCACAF referees, for instance — but let’s stop with the bags of urine.

It is fitting here to mention that in 2021 the U.S. hosted the Gold Cup final in Las Vegas and the Nations League final in Arlington, Texas. In both cases, it ceded to Mexico a large portion of home-field advantage.

World Cup qualifying has a different nature.

Sometimes, it’s cold.

Follow The Columbus Dispatch‘s Michael Arace on Twitter @MichaelArace1.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: World Cup qualifying: Was USMNT fair placing game in frigid Minnesota

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