CATONSVILLE, Md. – “The atmosphere's pretty unstable,” intoned the concerned voice of a news radio meteorologist, and it wasn't hard to see what he meant.
The US national team was scheduled to take the field at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County's Retriever Soccer Complex Friday afternoon for their first of two planned training sessions ahead of Sunday's Gold Cup quarterfinal against El Salvador at M&T Bank Stadium (4 pm ET, Fox/LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com), but weather conditions did their best to disrupt those well-laid plans.
Barely half an hour into the practice, originally to be a closed session but opened to the public at the last minute, sinister clouds rolled in and fat raindrops began to fall on the quiet hilltop campus at the edge of the Baltimore Beltway.
At first it looked like a lucky break for Jurgen Klinsmann's squad, keeping the scorching sun at bay as field players worked their way through high-tempo possession and combination exercises, first limited to the tight confines of the center circle and later on a more expansive 80-yard space where the coaching staff imposed restrictions designed to encourage quick transition play.
But the Excessive Heat Warning blanketing central Maryland in light of triple-digit heat index readings had suddenly given way to a Severe Thunderstorm Warning, and before long bolts of lightning were crackling to earth in the vicinity of the field, forcing the USMNT delegation to take shelter in their chartered bus.
The sky brightened as one bank of clouds moved overhead and Klinsmann barked at his staff to bring the squad back out, only for another cluster to roll in immediately, bringing fresh flashes of electricity and more delays.
The wait continued as spectators and media were cleared from the area, and with Honduras set to take over the field for their own session right after the USMNT's, it was unclear whether Klinsmann would be able to complete the entire practice as he originally planned it.
It probably wasn't his ideal afternoon from that perspective, especially in light of the day off he'd given his team on Thursday, quite possibly their only such break of this monthlong tournament. But the players made available to the media before the session professed to be unconcerned with the range of potential distractions ahead of Sunday's win-or-go-home clash.
“Yeah, it's hot, but we obviously can't let conditions dictate how we play football on Sunday,” said US captain DaMarcus Beasley, who sounded unimpressed by the sweltering Mid-Atlantic temperatures as he noted the extreme heat he routinely encounters playing his club soccer in Mexico. "We've just got to go with it, they've got the same conditions as us."
“I think all the boys are up for it,” he added. “We got a good couple of days off after the Costa Rica game and everybody's back today, fit and ready to go. So it shouldn't be any problems, everyone is fit and chomping at the bit to get their number called for the starting 11.”
The weekend forecast calls for more of the same across Baltimore, with thunderstorms, humid air and highs in the low- to mid-90s. The US may be hoping just enough rain falls to speed up play on the temporary grass pitch laid down at M&T Bank Stadium, but not so much that it turns into a quagmire that could work to El Salvador's advantage.
All four of Sunday's quarterfinalists (Honduras and Costa Rica face off in the second half of the doubleheader) have been given 90-minute windows in which to train on the stadium surface on Saturday afternoon, their only chance to experience it before game day.