|Photo by mdornseif on Flickr
What a difference a day makes. Fresh off one of the most memorable victories in US Soccer history, the Nats find themselves in 2nd place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal, thanks in no small part to their dramatic 1-0 victory on a day in which their main regional opponents for one of the three coveted World Cup spots all drew.
Entering the game the team looked to be at a crossroads, with infighting distracting their focus and intrigue hanging over the head of US Manager, Jurgen Klinsmann. An article which appeared in Sporting News earlier in the week portrayed a club in crisis: no sense of tactics or strategy, and anonymous sources claiming that the team was lost and the Manager culpable for the situation. Heaping further fuel on the fire was the damaging 1-0 loss to Honduras the US endured in their first of 10 hexagonal matches. Sitting in dead last place prior to Friday night's game, the US badly needed home field advantage and a win.
One out of two ain't bad. Although the thin air and cool weather of Colorado was expected to give the national team a significant boost over their opponents, no one was counting on what happened next: blizzard-like conditions at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, outside of Denver. The severity of Friday night's winter storm left the game in significant doubt -- would the players be able to play in conditions so difficult that it was nearly impossible to see the length of the pitch?
Although we were somewhat surprised that the game began as scheduled, we were even more shocked that it was allowed to continue all the way through to its conclusion. In fact, the Salvadoran referee overseeing the match also expressed some considerable doubt as to the ability of the players to continue without risking injury, and actually called a momentary halt to the proceedings on 54 minutes. It was only due to the vehement protests from both sides that the referee allowed the SnowClasico to continue.
Although Costa Rica has since protested the result, contending the game never should have been played in the first place, the complaint smacks of sour grapes: the Ticos were protesting the referee's cancellation at least as hard as the Americans, and given the run of play in the early second half, must have surely believed they were coming close to leveling the match. That they now want to overturn what ended up being a damaging result for their team is almost as farcical as the conditions the match was played in.
The wintery conditions made for some unforgettable scenes: Jermaine Jones, his hair turned white by the sticky flakes, had one of his best games in a US uniform -- Sam's Army may clamor to see more of the SnowFro.... US Captain Clint Dempsey, sticking the ball in the back of the net after Jozy Altidore's shot was deflected in his path, and scoring one of the more important goals in recent US history -- or did he? The snow was falling so hard that we'll have to take the referee's word for it.... The ball skidding and sliding across the pitch -- until the accumulation was so great that everything except long balls were impractical. And last but not least, the diehard US supporters sticking it out in blizzard conditions -- showing the world that US soccer and its fans fear nothing, not even Mother Nature.
The win will undoubtedly build character and could be just what the embattled team and their coach needed -- or not. Will we find ourselves back in the same place that we began after Tuesday night's game at the Azteca? We'll just have to wait and see. Win, lose or draw in Mexico, however, they can never take away the dramatic and exciting events of last night. And for that we're thankful.
This is farlieonfootie for March 24.