Cold-weather climates give U.S. homefield edge

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

As Jermaine Jones shook so much snow from his hair that it looked like the world's worst case of dandruff and the field attendants cleared enough of the white stuff to make an army of snowmen, it all begged one question.


Why would the United States play one of the matches that will decide its hopes of qualifying for next year's World Cup in a part of the country where elements like the blizzard that bombarded the Denver region on Friday night can take place?

The U.S.'s 1-0 victory over Costa Rica resembled an utter farce for much of the 90 minutes, with the ball burrowing in the surface and the field lines impossible to see only moments after they had been cleared. However, for all its bizarre scenes and scant resemblance to soccer, this was no accident. This was not an act of administrative ineptitude or abysmal planning by the powers that be at the national federation.

This was on purpose.

Homefield advantage is one of soccer's most ingrained conventions. Scientists and psychologists alike have tried on countless occasions to determine why two teams can perform so differently in a familiar environment compared to an alien one.

[Related: Costa Rica to protest]

In international soccer, it is even more prevalent. And taking on a team that prefers warmer climes in chilly Commerce City, Colo., seemed like a darn good idea when the game was scheduled several months ago.

Sure, things got a little out of hand weather-wise in a way no one could have predicted, but this was a job well done. With much of the U.S. team stationed in Europe, a cold venue will always be preferable against the likes of Costa Rica and Mexico.

Friday's game probably should have been called off, most reasonably at the point in the second half when the officials met briefly but were reportedly talked into continuing by both the American players, and incredibly, the Costa Rican players.

Yet, even though this was not the greatest spectacle for soccer, don't expect any changes in scheduling philosophy, even if soccer federation presidents make noise to that effect this weekend.

The U.S. will still make Mexico come to Columbus, Ohio, in September, hoping for a wet and windy night. And if you think it's not fair because it doesn't allow the players to showcase their true talents and could even pose a health hazard, you might be right. But consider that the alternative for the U.S. is to revert back to the dark days when decisions on hosting venues were made for shortsighted fiscal reasons.

A few decades ago, the Americans would do things like play Canada in Portland due to the city's relative proximity to our northern neighbors. Also, World Cup qualifiers would routinely be hosted in places with a strong ethnic community of the visiting nation. Great idea, right?

Well, it was so great that in 1985 a boisterous band of Costa Rican ex-pats cheered their team to victory over the host Americans in Torrance, Calif., dumping the U.S. out of the World Cup qualifying pool and delaying its return to the international stage another four years.

Truth is, every team in the world plays where it thinks it can win, and the three points collected by the Americans at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Friday were invaluable. Clint Dempsey's 16th-minute goal ensured the U.S. second place in the CONCACAF qualifying group behind Honduras despite some shaky moments in its opening two games.

Fair or not, going to Denver or Columbus or Hopkinsville, Ky., if necessary, is no different to Mexico playing its qualifiers in the Estadio Azteca at the altitude of Mexico City – with an afternoon kickoff time to maximize the heat and discomfort for the opposition.

Dempsey, despite appearing to be on the verge of hypothermia, wasn't complaining following his first qualifier as captain.

"It is not easy to play with snow up past your ankles," he said. "But trying to qualify for a World Cup is never easy. It is a roller coaster."

A roller coaster indeed. But the U.S.'s ride to Brazil next year might be a whole lot trickier if it didn't use conditions to its advantage.

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