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Snowy soccer is just a taste of what climate change will do to sports

The snow that blanketed yesterday’s World Cup qualifying match between the United States and Costa Rica, which the US won with a single, sloppy goal in the first half, made for an amusing contest, but no one seemed eager to play soccer in a blizzard ever again. They may not have a choice.

US goalkeeper Brad Guzan makes a save. AP Photo / Jack Dempsey

March snow in the northern hemisphere, let alone in a high-altitude city like Denver, Colorado, may not seem unusual, but it is. Denver doesn’t usually get blizzards this time of year, which may be why FIFA felt comfortable scheduling a match there on the second day of spring. And while it’s impossible to attribute any particular storm to climate change, warming trends are clearly leading to more powerful winter weather. Denver will get a foot of snow before this storm is over.

Costa Rican coach Jorge Luis Pinto called the match “an embarrassment to football, disrespectful to the game,” and said his team would protest. The referee stopped play in the 55th minute to shovel the pitch but decided the game should resume.

US defender Geoff Cameron helps a groundskeeper shovel the pitch. AP Photo / Jack Dempsey

Another World Cup qualifying match scheduled yesterday, between Northern Ireland and Russia in Belfast, was postponed due to snow and ice. The weather there was also unusual—and expected to continue today—and it was the first time an international soccer match had been cancelled in Belfast.

Jermaine Jones’s snow-fro. EPA / Barry Guiterrez

The match in Denver was decided by a Clint Dempsey goal in the 16th minute. The US lost the first of its qualifying matches to Honduras, 2-1.

US midfielder Graham Zusi heads the ball in front of Costa Rica defender Bryan Oviedo. AP Photo / Jack Dempsey

It was the second of 10 matches for each team in a round-robbin tournament to determine eligibility for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where the average temperature is now 39.9 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 Celsius) above the historic average (PDF). Looking ahead to 2022, there are already concerns that the World Cup that year in Qatar could see even more extreme weather than expected.

US goalkeeper Brad Guzan eats some snow and makes a save. EPA / Barry Guiterrez

After the game, a cheery US coach Jurgen Klinsmann said, “Both teams would have liked to play on a big, green surface, but we had some fun anyway.” When the referee considered stopping the match in the second half, Klinsmann, who grew up in Germany, ran onto the field and tried arguing in broken Spanish for the game to continue.

Clint Dempsey of the US asks for a call as Costa Rica’s Michael Barrantes rolls in the snow. EPA / Barry Guieterrez

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