Tony Sanneh tried to be a tough guy.
The St. Paul native didn’t wear layers under his US men’s national team kit for a World Cup qualifying game in Columbus, Ohio, in February 2001.
“I remember thinking I would be brave and only wear a short-sleeved shirt first half. That was just dumb,” Sanneh recalled last week. “It wasn’t intimidating in any way. It was, ‘you’re an idiot.’ ”
Sanneh put on a long-sleeved shirt at halftime and the US went on to beat Mexico 2-0, which became the first fabled “dos a cero” scoreline over the Americans’ arch rivals.
The temperature was 29 degrees at kickoff in Ohio that day — and that would feel downright tropical compared to what is forecast for the US World Cup qualifier versus Honduras at Allianz Field on Wednesday.
The National Weather Service on Sunday forecast a low of minus-13 for St. Paul, with a northwest wind up to 10 mph.
When the Pioneer Press asked about possible contingencies for the game considering this frigid forecast, a US Soccersman instead referenced the similar temperatures for the NHL’s Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. It was minus-6 when the puck dropped at Target Field for the Wild-Blues game and fell to minus-10 when the game finished in Minneapolis a month ago.
If the forecast registers that low and the USMNT game is played as scheduled, Wednesday’s game could become the coldest professional game played in the US What is considered the coldest contest is famously known as the “Ice Bowl,” when it was minus-13 degrees for the Packers-Cowboys playoff game in Green Bay, Wis. in 1967.
Sanneh is the game ambassador for Wednesday’s qualifier and said he doesn’t know how to feel about the conditions for the game.
“It could get really cold, but that’s what being in Minnesota is,” said Sanneh, who had 43 appearances for the US “If it becomes where Minnesota is a fixture for future US teams, this is our Lambeau (Field). This is where you have to come through, if you want to beat us.”
After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the US put its first winter qualifier in Columbus last Thursday, where it was 29 degrees as the US beat El Salvador 1-0. It was 20 degrees when Canada beat the US 2-0 on Sunday in Hamilton, Ontario.
Officials with US soccer and Allianz Field consulted with Target Field for how best to accommodate fans in the frigid weather coming Wednesday. They will provide a handful of accommodations, including free hand-warmers to the crowd, which is expected to reach capacity level at just under 20,000.
They will also allow fans to bring in battery-operated cold-weather gear and blankets, host medical stations and areas of refuge around the stadium, have staff roam the stadium to check on fans, crank up heat in bathrooms and provide additional hot foods and drinks at concession stands.
“It comes down to people — fans safety, staff safety and some of the precautions we had to take from a building standpoint,” said Justin Borrell, general manager at Allianz Field. “I think our Brew Hall is going to be a huge hit when it comes to (providing warm areas). It’s just focusing on the people and how the building can best serve the people.”
On contingencies, Borrell said: “We’ve been in constant communication with folks at US Soccer. That is really the entity that is going back and forth with (FIFA and the match commissioner). It’s been including them in our planning has been vital.
“We have not heard that we will hit a threshold that might be conflicting with the actual play of game, but rather focusing again on the ways in which we can take care of those folks, whether those are players, fans, staff.”
The US played Canada on a cold artificial turf in Ontario on Sunday; Allianz Field will work to have a better playing surface.
Minnesota United’s four-year-old stadium has underground heating coils that started thawing out the natural grass a few weeks ago. It’s purpose is to coax growth of the plant, but it also helped melt roughly 10 inches of snow off the grass.
Yet the cold air temperatures forced them to resort to manual snow removal for the last few inches the middle of last week. They got it all off and were able to mow it Saturday. The subsoil surface temps will be around 40 to 55 degrees.
“It’s not mid-July; it’s February 2 in Minnesota,” said Allianz Field’s assistant groundskeeper Mitch Ronning. “We obviously put forth our best effort. We are giving it all we can, but it’s snow or freezing cold, as far as playability. It’s probably not what you are going to get in summer because that plant is not as active.”
Allianz Field is preparing for the American Outlaws supporters group to be coming out in “full force,” Borrell said. Some of those double as Loons supporters from Minnesota.
“Minnesotans don’t shy away from the cold weather and those that want to see the game are going to come see the game,” Borrell said. “We are getting some great responses on that, even with the temperature and different things that are the forecast.”
FIVE COLDEST US PRO SPORTING EVENTS
-13 – Packers vs. Cowboys Dec. 31, 1967
-9 – Bengals vs. Chargers, Jan. 10, 1982
-6 – wild vs. Blues, Jan. 1, 2022
-6 – Vikings vs. Seahawks, Jan. 10, 2016
-4 – Packers vs. Giants, Jan. 20, 2008