Snow problem: USA beats Poland, elements in friendly
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- The last time Clint Dempsey played in a snowstorm, the match was reduced to a penalty-kick shootout rather than going the full 90 minutes.
That was in Texas when he was playing club soccer. On Wednesday night, Dempsey and the U.S. team defied the elements and beat Poland 1-0 in a World Cup tuneup played in blizzard conditions.
In a scene more befitting Lambeau Field than a soccer field, Dempsey scored the only goal off a misplay by Poland's goalie in the 48th minute.
"I never played in a game when that much snow came in at the same time," Dempsey said. "I never saw little flurries turn into big snow like that.
"The ball kept bouncing around here and there."
It bounced perfectly on Dempsey's fortuitous goal. Eddie Lewis made a superb long pass from the left wing into the penalty area. Goalkeeper Artur Boruc, who entered to start the second half, tried to punch it away. Instead, the ball deflected off the head of U.S. forward Taylor Twellman directly to Dempsey.
All Twellman's teammate with the New England Revolution had to do was head it into a gaping net.
"The defender thought the goalie was going to get it, and it caused him to hesitate a bit. And I was able to get behind him and get one in the back of the net," Dempsey said.
"He apologized for his mistake, but that's not enough," Poland coach Pawel Janas said of Boruc. "You need to concentrate more."
The next time the United States plays at Fritz-Walter-Stadion, it probably will be 50 degrees warmer, with no sign of snow and a frosty wind.
By the midpoint of the second half, the swirling snow made heading the ball an adventure and trying to make cuts a dangerous proposition. In the final minutes, referee Thorsten Kinhofer even went to a yellow ball so it would contrast against the white blanket on the field.
"I'm not sure the snow was an advantage for anybody," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "We have been training in California, our domestic players, for seven weeks."
And they certainly didn't see any California weather out there Wednesday.
The conditions controlled play more than either team. A frozen crowd of 13,395 -- many of them Americans from nearby Ramstein Air Base -- saw the United States improve to 4-0-1 this year and 6-7-2 against Poland, which beat the United States 3-1 during the first round of the 2002 World Cup.
The Americans return to Kaiserslautern on June 17 to face Italy in their second World Cup game. They improved to 2-7-2 in Europe under Arena, with both wins coming over Poland.
"We beat a good team in difficult conditions," said Kasey Keller, who played the first half in goal. "I'm sure the pitch and the weather will be better in June.
"Good teams win 1-0, and that's what we managed to do."
It was the only time before May when all European clubs were required to release their players to national teams, and the Americans inserted many of their Europe-based regulars. Their only other scheduled World Cup warmup game in Europe is March 22 against Germany in Dortmund.
Neither team warmed up early, then Poland had the best opportunities through 30 minutes. Keller, the career leader in victories and shutouts for the United States, had to be sharp to punch out a high ball and dived to his right to foil Michal Zewlakow moments after Keller also cleared a loose ball in the box.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu made a timely block of Miroslaw Szymkowiak's 15-yard attempt with Keller out of position.
The Americans began possessing the ball more late in the opening half without any results. The best chance came on Kerry Zavagnin's free kick that sailed just wide left.
But three minutes into the second period, the U.S. team struck. It was enough, thanks in part to the snowy conditions.
"The hard thing was seeing," Landon Donovan said. "There was a period of 15-20 minutes where you couldn't see more than 10 yards. The other thing is you are trying to run with the ball and it just keeps popping up, popping up and it's hard to get your momentum going."