Originally published Oct. 13, 2015.
It was the third day of spring in 2013, but the weather in Denver looked more like the middle of winter.
For the first time in 16 years on that date, blizzard-like conditions rolled over Dick’s Sporting Goods Park hours before the U.S. took on Costa Rica in the second match of the 2014 World Cup Qualifying final round.
Returning home after beginning the “Hex” with a 2-1 defeat at Honduras, the U.S. faced a Costa Rica side that held a five-game unbeaten streak over the Americans – the longest for either side in the series.
Though the cold conditions would appear to favor the MNT, with a layer of snow covering the field at kickoff there was little advantage to be had and certainly no pretty soccer to be played. Instead, it seemed likely a lucky bounce would decide the match – both teams just hoped they would be the benefactor.
It came for the U.S. in the 16th minute when Jozy Altidore’s shot from the top of the 18 deflected off a Costa Rican defender and fell perfectly for Clint Dempsey eight yards out from goal. With Ticos ‘keeper Keylor Navas reacting to the initial shot, Dempsey tapped home the game’s lone goal.
“I think the key to the win was to get an early goal,” said Dempsey post-game. “That gave us the confidence to keep going and it also put them on the back foot.
“I’m glad we scored early,” said MNT left back DaMarcus Beasley. “If we had to get a goal in those conditions in the second half, it would have been difficult.”
Though the game was tight, the team did see a clear penalty shout from Dempsey go uncalled by referee Joel Aguilar in the 42nd minute.
At halftime, stadium and U.S. Soccer staff did their best to clear the field of the collected snow, but their efforts were clearly covered up again as the second half got under way.
There, the MNT averted disaster twice. The first as conditions became so bad that Aguilar halted the game in the 55th minute to confer with the FIFA Match Commissioner about whether or not it should continue. A decision to halt the match would have cancelled out the U.S. goal and forced the two teams to play a new game the following day.
As they met, the grounds crew took back to the field to clear the lines as best they could. That effort would continue throughout the second half, with U.S. center back Geoff Cameron memorably helping to push one staff member as the heavy snow collected on his shovel.
Ultimately, taking the following day’s forecast into account and the fact that the two teams had another qualifying match three days later, the decision to finish the game was made.
Fifteen minutes later, Costa Rica thought they had the equalizer when former LA Galaxy and Chivas USA defender Michael Umaña appeared headed the ball across the line, but the goal was correctly called back with several Costa Rican players in an offside position.
Putting balls high and wide, the MNT grinded out the final 20 minutes of the match, earning an important win that showed the team’s resiliency and character.
“It’s not ideal conditions to play soccer or knock the ball,” said ‘keeper Brad Guzan, who started in place of the injured Tim Howard. “In saying that, I thought we dug deep and you’ve gotta find a way to get a result, and we did that tonight.
In the end, the win also spurred the MNT on to a strong qualifying run, taking 10 of a possible 12 points from their next four matches and lifting the Gold Cup that summer.