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Icicle Kicks

The U.S. won a snowy qualifier—the latest instance of home field gamesmanship

If the NFL has the Ice Bowl and the Tuck Rule game—epic contests remembered most for polar conditions and the resulting mayhem—then soccer got its own version last Friday outside Denver. In a World Cup qualifier that began with flurries and concluded in a near whiteout, the U.S. beat Costa Rica 1--0 in what will forever be known as the SnowClàsico. "It's some of the most difficult conditions I've ever had to play in," said forward Clint Dempsey, whose 16th-minute goal made the difference. "In the second half the snow was coming up to your ankles."

While the U.S. was ecstatic to pick up a much-needed three points going into Tuesday's qualifier at Mexico, Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto called the decision not to suspend the match "an embarrassment." On Monday, FIFA confirmed that it had received an official protest from Costa Rica asking for the game to be replayed from scratch.

The protest seemed unlikely to succeed—both teams played in the same conditions, and the referee and the match commissioner allowed the game to continue—but it added another chapter to the history of gamesmanship in regional soccer competitions. In February, Honduras scheduled its kickoff against the U.S. at 3 p.m. local time, the better to take advantage of temperatures in the 90s. (Several U.S. players looked exhausted early in the game, which Honduras won 2--1.) Over the years U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati has told his Mexican counterpart that the U.S. would schedule its qualifier between the two teams in Mexico-friendly Los Angeles if the Mexicans would stage the return match in low-lying Monterrey instead of in Mexico City, where the altitude is 7,940 feet. (The Mexicans never bite, so the U.S. has put its game in frigid Columbus during the winter in previous World Cup cycles, leading the rivalry to be called La Guerra Fría, the Cold War.)

Some wags joked that Costa Rica would now stage the September return match against the U.S. inside a volcano, but the fact is the Americans have faced far more difficult conditions and poor-quality fields over the years at qualifiers in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean—and, it should be noted, they have never filed a protest. But give the U.S. and Costa Rica credit for doing what they can to seek an edge. Even if the Costa Rican protest fails, it adds to the amusing back-and-forth between CONCACAF rivals. And these days, Uncle Sam is trying to give as much as it receives.

The U.S. is 21-0-2 in home qualifiers since losing 3--2 to Honduras in September 2001.



MILE-HIGH HAVOC L.A. native Herculez Gomez (9) and Juan Diego Madrigal of Costa Rica (average March temperature: 81º) were both out of their element in Colorado.