Before the U.S. and Cuba step on opposite sides of the field Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, they stepped onto the same plane in Portland.
As part of CONCACAF’s travel plan, everyone involved in each of the three groups – called “pods” – move from venue to venue together. Players, coaches, and administrative officials from the teams and the confederation all share space. It’s an efficient process, if not a little unusual.
To add to the intrigue, teams that are opponents in the next game go on the same charter flight in order to ensure that neither team gets an advantage by being in a venue earlier. Each group has a third of the plane, with one team in the back, another in the middle and the CONCACAF group up front. There are no dividers or curtains, only an empty row separating the delegations.
Other than the sight of your upcoming foe only a few feet away, it’s a fairly benign process. No matter what colors you wear, the players are all the same: sporting headphones, watching movies on iPads and playing games on their phones. And of course, they sleep.