By Ridge Mahoney
More than four years after the Snow Clasico, former U.S. international and
longtime Colorado resident Marcelo Balboa
says memories of that game are so vivid and so fresh it’s hard to believe so much time has passed.
“There’s always talk
about the game four years ago in the snow and there’s always talk about officials should have stopped the game because the ball didn’t roll,” says Balboa as he drives to Dick’s
Sporting Goods Park, site of an historic 1-0 U.S. defeat of Costa Rica in 2013 and where he will be Thursday to work the USA-Trinidad & Tobago game for Univision.
think we ever played a game like that. We played with a light dusting of snow and the field was white but you can still see green. I don’t think we’ve played a game like that in U.S.
Soccer history anywhere, that by the end of the game the ball wouldn’t even roll. The beauty is we’ll always be a part of history here in Colorado when that game was played.”
Great changes have swept through U.S. Soccer since that game was played. Bruce Arena
has replaced Jurgen Klinsmann
as head coach. Landon Donovan
has retired. MLS has added
teams in Orlando, New York City, Atlanta and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Balboa’s former U.S. teammate, Tab Ramos
, has coached the U.S. in three FIFA U-20 World Cups.
Balboa, who first came to the state in 1992 to play for the Colorado Foxes in the American Professional Soccer League, he’s lived here since starting his MLS career as an original member of the
Rapids in the league’s inaugural 1996 season.
He’s worked as analyst on the team’s broadcasts for the past 11 years and along with his Univision commitments coaches the
Rapids’ U-14 team in the U.S. Development Academy. His club is going through changes as well.
Last year longtime technical director Paul Bravo
resigned in a dispute with club
management. At the end of June, team president Tim Hinchey
will leave to join U.S. Swimming and there’s a bit of concern of how the team’s operations will fare going
“Bravo did a nice job,” said Balboa. “Before Bravo left, he had a vision of what he wanted the staff to look like. He wanted to make sure he brought in some
former players and coaches. John Davies
[U-12 head coach] coached in Scotland. He brought in myself, he brought in [U-19 head coach and former Rapid] Chris Martinez
, guys who have played
and been at a high level, trying to turn the academy around.”
The struggles of the first team, which rebounded last year after two dismal seasons and has regressed in 2017, and
spotty attendances did not dissuade U.S. Soccer from returning to the venue made famous by the “sno-fro” of Jermaine Jones
and protests from Costa Rican officials that the game
should have been suspended.
This time around, the USA is playing and training at altitude prior to facing Mexico at Estadio Azteca on Sunday. It tied Venezuela, 1-1, last Saturday in
Sandy, Utah, after several days of training at elevation of approximately 4,200 feet.
U.S. Soccer has taken already special measures to prepare for games against Mexico at Estadio Azteca,
which is about 7,300 feet above sea level. In 1997, former head coach Steve Sampson
took his players to a long camp at Big Bear Lake (elevation 6,700 feet) in Southern California. After
enduring several days of altitude sickness, the Americans -- including Balboa -- recovered and in Azteca overcame an early red card to defender Jeff Agoos
to scrape out a memorable 0-0 tie.
Four years ago, the USA headed to Mexico City after the Snow Clasico and gained another 0-0 tie.
On Sunday, the Americans will deal with pollution as well as the altitude but
with an evening kickoff heat won't be as much as a factor. Balboa says the players must blot out the specter of Azteca until they finish the job against T&T, which won’t be that easy despite
the desperate importance of winning on Thursday.
“It’s unavoidable,” says Balboa. “You can’t come to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and get a point. A
point is not good enough at home. It doesn’t matter if they win ugly, they have to take three points at home. I’ve heard some of the guys say they’re not thinking about Mexico.
Listen, you’re at altitude because you’re playing Mexico. You could have been training anywhere else and played Trinidad anywhere else. They’re preparing for Trinidad but in the back
of their minds they’re preparing for the Mexico game.”
The quick turnaround may shape the tactics of Arena if the USA can get ahead and even if T&T starts to crumble a
repeat of the 6-0 demolition of Honduras in March is unlikely. Arena has said there will likely be changes in the starting lineup yet at least a few players will start in both games. An early lead
would enable the Americans to conserve their energies and still hold onto three precious points.
“If they get up 2-0, they can slow the game down, knock the ball around, and not
push as high,” says Balboa. “You don’t want to get countered off the back side. If the U.S. can take control of the game and take the lead, I can see them slowing it down and
dictating the pace. And they should.
“Bruce was the obvious choice because Bruce has been through qualifying, he’s coached big-name players with the LA Galaxy, so when you
look for a quick fix to help this team qualify, I agree with this choice 100 percent.”