KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It’s going to be cold – downright frigid even – on Saturday afternoon at Sporting Park. Hats and gloves? Required. Hand and feet warmers? Only the brave (or stupid) will go without.
There's only so much layering you can do on the field, but there will be a slight, but perhaps significant, change in the pitch conditions when Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake take the field to decide the MLS Cup champion (4 pm ET | ESPN, Unimas, TSN2/RDS in Canada) in what could once again be record low temperatures, which meteorologists forecast will peak in the low 20s.
Nearly two weeks ago, when Sporting welcomed Houston for the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship, the sprinklers at the stadium were turned on before kickoff, coating the pitch in a thin layer of moisture. That’s standard procedure at Sporting Park, but one manager Peter Vermes wanted to nix considering the conditions.
“There was a little miscommunication, and someone put a little bit on there. In the second half, because the temperature dropped a little bit and it was at nighttime, there was a little bit of a frost that came on the field,” Vermes told reporters on Thursday. “That’s not going to happen this time around. We do have a sub-air system that will continue to blow hot air underneath. The more dangerous thing for the player is when the field freezes. I don’t see that happening.”
And while the field didn’t freeze against the Dynamo, the frost on the grass gave some players issues with traction.
That may have even contributed to Houston’s opening goal, scored just minutes into the winner-take-all match by Boniek Garcia, as left back Seth Sinovic appeared to slip trying to plant after the Honduran cut the ball back.
This time, however, the sprinkler heads will remain unused and the field, warmed by the sub-air system, should remain playable for two teams eager to build on the ground rather than boot the ball upfield on what could have been a frozen pitch in different circumstances.
“The soil of the field was fine [against Houston]. It didn’t freeze. It was nice and soft for us,” midfielder and Best XI selection Graham Zusi said. “The water issue with it freezing on the blades of grass was something we learned from and it won’t happen again. … Cold is cold. You’re moving around – it’s not a big deal.”
That’s certainly easy for the ever-active Zusi to say.
It will be a bit different for fans, who’ll be heavily layered but stationary as their hometown team battles for its second MLS Cup title following a 2000 triumph partially fueled by then center back and now manager Peter Vermes.
Of course, conditions are even worse in Salt Lake City, where the airport reported nearly six inches of snowfall on Thursday – two inches more than the previous record.
That same front is busy turning Kansas City into a deep freeze, with the hope being that the weather won’t have a detrimental effect on the play on the field or the ability of players and fans alike to truly savor the occasion.
“It was ridiculous cold [two weeks ago],” Sporting captain Jimmy Nielsen said. “I’m a goalkeeper, I’m standing in there. My gloves have to be wet so I can catch the ball. I’m not saying I had a tough time to enjoy it, but it was very, very cold.
“I have Scandinavian blood in me but they’re building indoor arenas in Denmark so we can play indoor when it’s very cold. I prefer around 65 if I can order that on Saturday please.”