We’re heading into the spring international break and, with it, the anniversary of one of the most, er, memorable games in USMNT history. In the middle of what was a slow-burn crisis of confidence in the leadership structure at US Soccer, it took a game that almost wasn’t played— and probably shouldn’t have been played— to revitalize a floundering squad heading into the World Cup.
This week we look back at the SnowClasico— March 22nd, 2013.
The USMNT were set to play their second game in the Hex for World Cup qualifiers. Their first outing, a 2-1 loss in Honduras a month earlier, had set everyone who follows American soccer on edge. All of a sudden, their trip to Brazil the following year seemed less of a sure thing.
In the weeks leading up to the fateful game in Colorado, a report was published citing unnamed USMNT squad members who had some choice words for manager Jürgen Klinsmann. Questions were raised surrounding his tactical nous and man-management, as well as a general sense of doubt over whether Klinsmann was the right person to lead the national team going forward.
With all this swirling around, the USMNT took to the pitch at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park to face off against Costa Rica. Which was itself fairly impressive, seeing as they could barely see the damn thing.
A snowstorm had blown through the area that evening, leaving the pitch— and everyone in the stadium— coated under a thick white curtain of snow. The grounds crew worked hard to shovel enough of the pitch to make the lines visible, but for the most part they fought a losing battle. Nevertheless, the match commissioner and officials decided to go ahead.
The game itself was quite a spectacle, even if it was only soccer in the most generous reading of the term. Keeping possession was nigh impossible, penalties that should’ve been awarded were instead waved off as a byproduct of the slippery conditions, and an inability to maintain footing meant few shots on goal. (On the other hand, the decision by the home side to wear white shirts was surely a clever ploy to make use of camouflage.) This was more akin to absurdist physical comedy than professional sports.
As it happens, someone did manage to find the back of the next in the middle of the storm. Clint Dempsey, largely by accident, tallied in the 16th minute to put the USA ahead. Apart from the tunnel procession and halftime, that was probably the one moment in the evening’s proceedings that resembled the game of soccer. The game trundled on— albeit paused briefly in the second half— and the USA nailed down their first victory of the Hex in absurd circumstances.
Costa Rica filed an appeal to replay the match, but FIFA dismissed their case on a technicality. Both teams ended up qualifying for the World Cup fairly easily and Costa Rica got their revenge in the return leg six months later. And while the USMNT managed to pull themselves together for the remainder of the qualifying tournament and managed to advance to the knockout rounds in Brazil, controversy surrounding the squad— and Klinsmann in particular— never really went away. A quick peek at Soccer Twitter on a USMNT matchday illustrates that.
Speaking of which, the USA travel to Guatemala tomorrow for their Fourth Round match in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Kickoff is at 10pm EST on beIN Sports.