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Saturday, March 23, 2013

National Soccer Team Wins In Snowstorm

In remarkable conditions more suited to a playoff football game in, say, Green Bay, the United States men's soccer team scored a crucial 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in a 2014 World Cup qualifying match played in suburban Denver in freezing fog and wind chills in the teens.

Snow fell throughout the game, but play in the second half bordered on treacherous.  At one point the referee tried to stop the game but both teams implored him to continue.  Undoubtedly, Costa Rica had an eye on its Tuesday night qualifying match.  Had tonight's game been suspended and played tomorrow (a dicey proposition given the forecast for near-blizzard conditions through midday Saturday, and six inches of snow), Costa Rica would have had one less recovery day for that next game, at home versus Jamaica.  That is a likely win (and a must-win) for Costa Rica.  However, the conditions tonight negated any skill level advantage that the Americans might have had -- although Latin American countries traditionally have had more skillful ball handlers and dribblers who can excel at one-on-one battles, so most any Latin country poses a test for an American squad. 

The snowy conditions required on-the-fly adjustments -- which I don't believe either team made.  These adjustments would and should have been to the mentality of the players. Instead of the long volley passes, I believe shorter passes would have better enabled ball possession and the development of a methodical attack and scoring chance.  Long passes were hard to execute due to the very slippery conditions, the condition of the ball (subfreezing temperatures turn leather balls into something resembling a block of ice), and the poor footing made it hard for players to be able to react and run onto a pass.  In other words, a pass had to be right at a player or else the ball would go out of bounds, or simply stop as the snow and ice concoction would stop many rolling balls from sailing on the grass out of bounds.

The conditions and adversity made me think that tonight's game would have put a premium on the dribbling and short passing skills that often made certain mediocre outdoor players in the old North American Soccer League excellent -- if not star -- indoor soccer players in the Major Indoor Soccer League.  Those players more often than not came from certain countries like Argentina, Bolivia and what used to be Yugoslavia -- countries where the traditional style of play emphasized ball control in tight spaces over the reliance on the "air war" of volleys and set plays (a good characterization of English soccer).  The growing proliferation of players moving cross-border to top European leagues has erased much of the traditional "national" styles of play in the last two decades, however.

In the meantime, the United States next plays Mexico on Tuesday night at Estadio Azteca.  The United States' qualification for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 is no means certain

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