For channel surfers, even the ones who cant tell a soccer ball from a cantaloupe, the sight last Friday was irresistible.Soccer in the snow. Team USA on the frozen tundra of well suburban Denver.For visiting Costa Rica, the idea of playing in a steady snowstorm in mid-March had to be unnerving, as its postmatch protest attested. But not surprisingly, FIFA, soccers world governing body, put a relatively immediate squelch Tuesday on the Costa Rican complaints.The United States 1-0 victory stands, FIFA officials ruled. And through wind, rain, snow and lofty altitude, the qualifying rounds of the 2014 World Cup go on.The concept is simple. Each nation in this round plays the other five qualifiers in the CONCACAF region twice.For the U.S. team, this home-and-away arrangement usually translates to one game at a traditional site, with a hostile, Spanish-speaking crowd intent upon making the Americans 90 minutes as miserable as possible, and a return match in some place decidedly Uncle Sam-ish.Like Columbus, Ohio. Or Salt Lake City. Or like last Fridays contest at cozy 18,000-capacity Dicks Sports Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.Thats right. In a nation of Rose Bowls and Jerry Jones-designed palaces, the U.S. mens national soccer team has to retreat to a band box rigged to be home team-friendly. And we can blame the Statue of Liberty for that.We are a nation of immigrants. A lot of our best friends probably came from elsewhere. And chances are, those friends grew up in their homelands going to soccer games.If Owner Jones Cowboys Stadium, to cite the most obvious example, were to host a USA-Mexico World Cup qualifier, a vocal majority of the audience would be wearing the so-called visiting teams tricolors.It wouldnt really be a home game at all.Man, by nature, is territorial, it seems. We can be fiercely provincial. The pages of the World Cup and Davis Cup history books can attest to that.Insults. Flying beer bottles. Intimidated officials. It comes with the schedule.The objective in World Cup qualifying, therefore, is to win all of your home games and hope to sneak away with a random victory or a draw somewhere on the five-match road.For Team USA, the mini-blizzard couldnt have come at a better time. Not only did the U.S. team need a victory after a disappointing opening loss to Honduras, but it also faced reports of discord within its ranks.In an article in The Sporting News, anonymous players contended that coach Jurgen Klinsmann was playing favorites and tearing the team apart.Instead, a Christmas miracle occurred. The weather turned what could have been a troublesome night of scarce goals, tough questions and postgame denials into a TV snow-globe spectacle.The stories and interviews after the match were all about the snow, not the pot-stirring story.And no sooner than the locker rooms had emptied in Colorado, the attention turned to Tuesday nights visit to the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, where the Americans had never won a World Cup qualifier.Much is made of Mexicos Azteca Stadium, and with good reason. The stadium is like playing at the bottom of a steep canyon, where the walls are lined in red, white and green. The noise is constant. The high-altitude air is thin. The prevailing mood always seems on the edge.The Cup qualifier that I saw in Azteca Stadium was on an Easter Sunday, but I didnt see or hear any Easter Bunny.El Tri, Team Mexico, had its own baggage to deal with as it headed into Tuesdays game. A 2-2 draw with Honduras had turned Mexico fans restless.For Team USA, another uncomfortable stop on the road to the World Cup seemed in store.A tough opponent. Even tougher place.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @glebreton