The United States and Honduras squared off in what’s believed to be the coldest World Cup qualifying match in history Wednesday evening, leading to players wearing some equipment we don’t normally see on a soccer pitch.
The temperature at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn., was 3 degrees Fahrenheit (–16 degrees Celsius) when the teams kicked off at 7:30 p.m. ET, with wind chills making it feel more like –10 to –15°F (–23 to –26°C).
That led to players wearing base layers like long-sleeved shirts and leggings under their usual short-sleeved jerseys and shorts. For the most part, the base layers did not match the kits — usually a no-no under FIFA rules, but those were relaxed by match officials. Some even wore balaclavas that covered their faces and heads.
Faced with the prospect of standing around in the cold and not moving around a lot for much of the game, U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner bundled up even further. He accessorized his balaclava and base layers with a quarterback’s hand warmer around his waist that was on loan from the Minnesota Vikings. The match referee made him take it off a few minutes into the game, though.
The Vikings also loaned the U.S. team foot warmers, and both teams had heated benches. The U.S. supplied the referees and the Honduran players with thermal gear.
This was by far the coldest USMNT game since temperatures started being recorded in 1999. It shattered a record of 22°F (–5°C) set only a few days earlier, when the U.S. lost to Canada 2-0 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ont., on Jan. 30.
Despite the equipment supplied by the U.S., two members of the Honduran team, goalkeeper Luis López and forward Romell Quioto, had to be substituted off at halftime and treated for hypothermia. The U.S. won the game 3-0.
While some criticized U.S. Soccer for scheduling the match in a Minnesota winter and match officials for moving ahead with kickoff despite the especially brutal conditions, USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said all was fair in the race for a spot in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
“What I would say is that we provided Honduras and their staff, and the referees, with warm weather gear, we provided them headgear [balaclavas], trying to make it a safe environment for them to play in,” he said in his postgame press conference, according to MLSSoccer.com.
“When we scheduled this game in this location, you have to go by average temperatures, daily average temperature, and it was the best guess. We wanted 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. But all we can do once that happens is try to mitigate the risk by having warm weather gear and going out there and competing, and we did that.”
Berhalter added that the U.S. had to make the most of its home-field advantage, just as Central American countries do.
“When we go down to those countries, and it’s 90 degrees and 90% dew point and it’s unbearable humidity and guys are getting dehydrated and cramping up and getting heat exhaustion, that’s the nature of our competition,” he said.
His Honduran counterpart, Hernan Gomez, felt very differently about the freezing conditions.
“It is difficult, very complicated. Soccer is not for suffering like that,” he said. “I cannot analyze the boys in this type of environment and match climate.
“In this qualifier, the United States does have an important difference, but playing like that doesn’t work. It is not a football spectacle, it is not normal. In this situation, I am not able to do an analysis of the players. I’m not able to do it.”
Feature photo courtesy Footy Headlines