COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Soft snow started falling, and then kept getting heavier as the night progressed.
From the start of Friday’s World Cup qualifier, the lines on the field were covered. As the game wore on, even the Americans in their white home uniforms became hard to see.
And then in the 55th minute, with the U.S. leading Costa Rica 1-0 on Clint Dempsey’s early goal, the referee and match commissioner stopped it.
Would it continue? For a moment, it was as unclear as the view.
But then, after some heated discussions, play went on.
On a snowy night more suitable to slaloms than soccer, Dempsey’s 16th-minute score in his first start as the American captain held up, giving the U.S. a 1-0 victory in a key qualifier for next year’s World Cup.
“It was difficult out here to see anything,” Dempsey said. “The second half, the snow coming up past your ankles, it was almost unplayable.”
Several U.S. players wore short sleeves. A bare-chested Dempsey applauded fans after the final whistle.
Costa Rica’s team seemed to have a harder time dealing with the winter wonderland. The Ticos have 24 hours to file a written protest with FIFA.
“You couldn’t see the lines. You couldn’t see the ball. You couldn’t play,” Costa Rica midfielder Michael Barrantes said.
Plows and shovels were used to clear the penalty areas, center circle and midfield stripe as snow got heavier, and a yellow-and-purple ball was used. Ten minutes into the second half, Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto wanted referee Joel Aguilar of El Salvador and match commissioner Victor Daniel of Grenada to suspend the game, but U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann made a case for playing on.
“That’s why went onto the field with my bad Spanish, to interfere with the referee, ‘We’re not stopping that game. It’s only the lines,’” Klinsmann said. “They cleaned up the lines and they kept playing. The referees were clear, they said it was all about the lines. It’s for both teams very difficult to play all the way through. I would have done anything possible to not stop it.”
The match will be remembered in American soccer for the elements as much as the 1967 Ice Bowl is in the NFL. As the snow increased, it made the field resemble a cake topped with piles of sugar, and players’ hair turned white as snow stuck along their scalps. During injury time, American defender Geoff Cameron even playfully pushed the back of a grounds crew member shoveling the field.
As the conditions deteriorated, the U.S. survived Michael Umana’s apparent 70th-minute goal for Costa Rica that was disallowed for offside and came away with a red-very-white-and-blue victory. Brad Guzan, in goal because Tim Howard was injured, slid in the snow after balls like a kid in a park.
“You don’t want to stop it. You want to keep that advantage and finish it off,” Klinsmann said.