Tonight, the U.S. Men’s National Team -- which has won its last 12 games -- will play Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifying match. With a win, the U.S. soccer team could secure a place in Brazil in 2014, so there’s that. But there’s also a delicious back story.
In March, the same two teams met for a qualifier in Denver that only barely registered as a soccer match. There was a bit of precipitation that day. OK, it was a blizzard.
This point may be self-evident, but soccer is not a game meant to be played in the snow. Spikes don’t grip. The ball -- if you can even see it -- doesn’t roll or bounce. The field lines become invisible to officials. Players wear shorts.
The U.S. was lucky to score early, before the field was completely obscured, and went on to win the match, 1-0.
The match was a lot of fun to watch in the comfort of your living room, but the Ticos had every right to be angry about it. And they were. “It was not fair, not fair,” said coach Jorge Luis Pinto.
Much conspiracy theorizing followed. Specifically, that it was no accident that the two teams played in a blizzard: It was a deliberate bit of gamesmanship by American soccer officials, who figured it just might snow in March in Denver, and that inclement weather would be sure to slow down Costa Rica’s speedy attackers. That’s a stretch, obviously -- if American officials wanted to play in snow, they could have scheduled the game in Buffalo. But the U.S. could, and should, have called the game off. Although the conditions were the same for each team, they rendered the match unplayable, or at least reduced a game of tactics and skill and luck to one of mostly luck.
Costa Rica protested to FIFA, which can always be counted on to do the right thing. The appeal was denied on procedural grounds: It’s not a “valid protest” unless the captain of the protesting team lodges it directly with the referee in the presence of the opposing captain.
In preparation for tonight's game, the Ticos are getting revenge with a little gamesmanship of their own. Upon arriving in Costa Rica, the U.S. players had to wait in the immigration line with the rest of the unwashed masses. For practices, the U.S. has been relegated to a dairy factory without World Cup-approved balls.
It’s all pretty silly, really. But so is the fact that a country with fewer than 5 million people is competitive against one with a population of more than 300 million. In fact, in eight tries, the U.S. has never managed a road win against the Ticos in a World Cup qualifier, coming away with only one tie.
Of course, the U.S. National Team has never looked quite as good as it does right now. You can trace some of the team's new confidence to a snowy night in March.
So, yes, this should be good.
(Jonathan Mahler is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)