Forwarned is prepared and clearly, sometime in late November, Gregg Berhalter and US Soccer sat down, played the tape, looked through the storms of Edmonton and saw in the frozen faces of Mexicans all the warning they needed.
Seriously, they could have saved themselves 90 minutes and read the French tip. Only 19 words. “To survive the Canadian winter, one needs a body of bronze, eyes of glass, and blood made of brandy.”
Louis Armand’s Offering of Lom d’Arce was published in the early 1700s, but as the men of Canada and the US gather for their most momentous gathering in a generation, the message still rings true in the winter air. Especially since the scan that caused such trauma to the third Baron Lahontan is a stone’s throw from the site on Sunday.
Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, a stadium sponsored by the country’s beloved coffee chain in a city about 70km south of Toronto, doesn’t have much of a footballing history. This potentially pivotal 2022 World Cup qualifier will indeed be the first time Canada’s senior men have turned up at the stadium for a competitive international match. But the young team at John Herdman is dedicated to creating new stories, a new story.
When they did just that in November, turning Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium into the Iceteca and beating mexico in a qualifier for the first time since 1976, Canada’s coach pointed to the snow drifts next to the pitch and the mercury bottoming out at -9C (16F) with a wind chill of -14C (7F).
“Every country uses the terrain to their advantage,” said the Englishman after his best night to date, when he watched Canada grow. to the top of the Concacaf standings. “We see this as an advantage. There was a genuine opportunity here to bring out the Canadian in our players. They’ve all grown up on plastic pitches in cold conditions, so for us we wanted them to feel at home.”
So, having ousted the Canadian from his side at the Iceteca, it’s safe to assume Herdman wants to do something similar on Sunday by choosing to take the United States to Hamilton. Perhaps hoping that a place locals call The Donut Box will come with extra frosting. Forecast conditions call for a frosty start to Sunday with a morning wind chill of -21C (-6F) with flurries of snow and temperatures around -10C (14F) by early afternoon.
Herdman has done wonders with this new generation, instilling a positivity and confidence that stands in stark contrast to almost anything that has come before on the men’s team. But is there justification for his apparent belief that taking the Berhalter side out into the wide open expanses of Tim Hortons Field, rather than taking things indoors in Vancouver, gives Canada an advantage? Put more simply… great white north or great white lie?
“Well… the more you expose yourself to the cold, the better you can deal with it,” Dr Gordon Giesbrecht he tells the Guardian. The University of Manitoba physiologist is the planet’s foremost authority on freezing to death. Due to his remarkable research projects, he is known as Professor Popsicle. “Our normal response to cold is vasoconstriction, or decreased blood flow to the skin. So adapting to continuous exposure lessens that. It makes your skin warmer, your hands and feet more functional. Also, your receptors will be warmer, so you won’t feel as cold. That in itself will help you cope psychologically.
“You know, we’re Canadians, we’re tough. There’s no question that Canadians think they’re tougher than anyone else when it comes to cold. So there is something to that. It could be a couple of percentages, but who knows.”
Giesbrecht, whose investigation has included the injection of ice water into his veins, corrected that Sunday’s cold would not qualify as “extreme”. Berhalter, however, was clearly not going to take any chances. The United States opted to acclimatize and host both sides’ playoffs on Sunday in cold-weather cities, against El Salvador on Thursday night in Columbus and bringing Honduras to Minnesota on Wednesday. Canada flew home from its qualifier in Honduras, where daytime temperatures hovered around 28C (82F), on Thursday.
Ultimately, science has largely shown that coping with the cold is a matter of the mind.
“As soon as your body temperature goes up, there’s not a whole lot of physiological advantage to someone who lives or trains in a cold environment compared to someone who comes from a warmer environment,” Christopher Minson, a physiology professor who studies the Body. response to extreme environments at the University of Oregon, he tells The Guardian.
Minson works with professional teams and Olympic athletes to help them handle the extremes. The progress of players from the US and Canada means that most of both teams now avoid extremes and play in Europe. Sixteen of Canada’s squad are with European clubs to 14 Americans.
However, both physiologists suggested that Canadians who spent much of their lives here would retain those benefits of cold weather, particularly in terms of mentality. Essentially, once Sunday’s battle heats up, all things are the same except the mind. Canadian forward Cyle Larin’s facial hair may freeze, but it will be nothing new for a player whose club career took him to Turkey but was born and raised in the Toronto area. On the other hand, fast-freezing mustaches can unnerve California midfielder Sebastian Lletget, for example.
“If you’re more used to it, you’re more relaxed,” adds Minson. “You are not going to have that fear in your mind. I am a physiologist by trade. I have been doing this for a long time. But I will say that it is the brain. A big part is psychology.”
Minson also points to exercise-induced bronchoconstriction as a factor. In simple terms, it is a tightness in the lungs caused by breathing particularly dry air, and familiar minds can better control it by breathing through the nose and avoiding drinks.
From the altitude in the Azteca to the heat and humidity of Central America and the Caribbean, Concacaf’s ranking has always been affected by environmental factors. The tight schedule due to the pandemic combined with Canada’s emergence as the most improved team in the region and the world has brought a new chill factor. This is the first competitive January-February qualifying window for the Canadians since 1985, when they were on course to reach their lone men’s World Cup.
Berhalter seems well aware that psychological force will decide much. “It’s a mindset,” he said. “I have played in Germany with short sleeves. Once you start running, once you start sweating, you’re good to go.”
Berhalter’s former assistant at Columbus Crew, Pat Onstad, was part of several Canadian generations for whom winters were arid and inactive.
“I remember playing one in November, but it was a no-no game against Mexico,” Onstad, whose time in goal for Canada spanned from 1988 to 2010, tells The Guardian. “It was in Toronto and it started snowing in the second half. and I remember thinking ‘God, I wish this game mattered’. Now these games do matter.”
Onstad, general manager of MLS’s Houston Dynamo, argues that given their plethora of young attacking talent, Canada doesn’t need conditions on their side. Naturally, spare a thought for goalkeepers. Milan Borjan continued his rise as a Canadian cult favorite that night at the Iceteca when the keeper donned gray sweatpants and a hairnet turned babushka headscarf.
“There is no lonelier place [than in goals] and there is no colder place,” laughs Onstad. “But it’s not about style. Just win baby.”
That, ultimately, is the goal. If Donut Box gets the Canadian on their side and Professor Popsicle’s percentages prove true, they’ll be one step closer to spending the winter in Qatar. One step closer to making more new history. At that time, Canadian blood may well be made of brandy.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism