SALT LAKE CITY – It is sunny, and it is hot in Utah this week. The thermostat didn’t quite scrape triple digits on Monday, but it wasn’t far off, topping out at 94 degrees. The humidity was a miniscule eight percent, which means you definitely, definitely need to hydrate. A lot.
On Tuesday, when the US are set to kick off against Honduras (9 pm ET, ESPN/UniMas, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com), it’s supposed to be even hotter and dryer. At kickoff, it's supposed to be 97 degrees with seven percent humidity. By the final whistle, it's supposed to have cooled off into the high 80s.
Such is life in the high desert, and such is life in CONCACAF.
Jurgen Klinsmann has repeatedly stressed just how different qualifying out of this region is than anything he experienced as a player or coach in Germany. Sure, from Madrid to Munich to Moscow, there’s going to be some variance in terms of weather, altitude and field conditions, but it’s nothing compared to what the Yanks have already faced.
Did we mention that, in addition to the desert heat, the SLC area is nearly 4,400 feet above sea level? That's 3,000 feet higher than any major stadium for any of the top 20 European clubs.
Here's a brief, game-by-game synopsis of what Klinsmann has had to adjust to:
The Catrachos very cleverly scheduled this one for midday in San Pedro Sula, making the most of their home-field advantage. Temperatures were in the mid-90s and kickoff, and at halftime, and at the final whistle after the US had melted in a dispiriting second 45 minutes. It wasn’t just the temperature, though – the 80 percent humidity of the tropics took a particular toll on the German-American contingent.
Round 2: USA 1-0 Costa Rica
Play in Denver, and normally the story is going to be the altitude. Dick’s Sporting Goods Park checks in at a mile above sea level, the highest altitude of any MLS stadium.
But this time around, in late March, the altitude wasn’t even a footnote. Instead, it was a snowstorm – close to a blizzard, really – that dumped nearly a foot of snow on the field during the run of play, and another foot after the lights had been turned out.
Four days after the Snow Game, the US climbed 2,000 feet higher into the atmosphere for their date with the region’s most intimidating venue, the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The weather cooperated, with gameday temperatures clocking in the low 70s, and even the smog stayed away. It was, all things considered, a comparatively mild evening, nearly a mile-and-a-half above sea level.
Back to the tropics, and back to another venue in which the US have historically had all kinds of trouble. The bumpy pitch, the heat and the humidity were all there – it was in the mid-80s at kickoff, with the humidity hitting 70 percent.
But the Jamaican fed gambled by playing the game at night instead of in the blazing sun of midday. Instead of wilting in the second half, the US saved their best for the final 30 minutes and came out of it with their first-ever win at The Office.
Gorgeous, temperate Seattle! Even the English would find it mild and agreeable.
And that’s what the weather was in last week’s win, the best US performance under Klinsmann. Of course, the match was not without its peccadillos, which came in the form of a temporary grass pitch laid down over CenturyLink Field’s fieldturf. Michael Bradley and Tim Howard both opined, pregame, that the surface was less than ideal. Clint Dempsey was more sanguine, though, as was Klinsmann.
It turns out the latter two were probably correct as, other than a few first-half slips, the field held together and arguably even helped the US since balls played into space tended to hold up. Eddie Johnson took advantage on his second-half goal, propelling the US to the top of the Hexagonal standings.