Editorial (March 4, 2019) – Last night, the Colorado Rapids hosted Portland Timbers in a match that had four inches of snow fall during it. In what the Internet called Snow Clasico 3, the temperature dropped to 18 degrees Fahrenheit. It was the coldest MLS match in history, regular season or playoffs. The match ended 3-3 and had everything one could want in a soccer match.
Snow Clasico 3 Embodied Peak MLS #TeamChaos
The match started off with freezing temperatures and light snow with the expectation that both would intensify by the second half.
— Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) March 3, 2019
The field eventually became surrounded in a heavy fog of snow. The officials would pause during a stoppage of play every ten (or so) minutes to allow the grounds crew to plow the penalty area lines. My laptop up in the outdoor(!) press box was getting sprinkled with snow as if a waiter with a salt grinder was standing over it.
The supporters would have welcomed this weather as the perfect atmosphere for getting dinner in Summit County after a day on the slopes. Instead they braved the elements, chanted, drank beer (no frozen beer taps this time from what I heard), and some took off their shirts.
The Colorado Rapids and Portland Timbers played the coldest game in MLS history last night – 18°F 🥶🥶
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 3, 2019
Just 16 minutes in, we got the first goal of the game on some great passing by the Rapids to breakdown the Timbers defense. It led to an open goal tap in for Kei Kamara, who did his heart-hands celebration then danced with Kellyn Acosta.
The match got turned on its head with a major referee decision marked with controversy in the 27th minute. The Timbers had a great attacking sequence that led to a Larrys Mabiala shot right in front of goal. The shot deflected off the hand of Axel Sjoberg, who was falling to the ground and bracing himself. The rebound was put in by David Guzman, who was off-sides on the play. Drew Fischer called Sjoberg for hand ball, awarded a PK, and gave the defender a red card.
After a VAR review, all calls stood. After the match, Manager Anthony Hudson said “we were told that [the ball] hit [Sjoberg’s] hand but there was no way of him getting his hand out the way, adding “obviously, I don’t think it’s a great decision.”
This handball call on Sjoberg – I think it’s incorrect.
1) A player falls to the ground – where else are his arms supposed to go except underneath him to brace the fall?
2) This is ball-to-hand. Axel’s not reaching for it, he’s landing and getting struck by it. #Rapids96 pic.twitter.com/zwdfMACmpX
— Mark Asher Goodman (@soccer_rabbi) March 2, 2019
In that, the officials seemed to acknowledge that the play was ball-to-hand, not hand ball, but gave the PK anyways. Diego Valeri’s initial shot was saved, but he buried the rebound easily.
Portland took the lead just before halftime when 5’7″ Sebastian Blanco got the slightest of touches off a corner to slip the ball into the far post. The half ended 2-1.
— Matt Pollard (@LWOSMattPollard) March 3, 2019
The weather worsened in the second half with the temperature dropping down to reportedly no more than 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Players began to slip and skid just by planting their foot. Dancing around a defender became easy with a good touch and enough (but not too much) speed. Contact became easy to initiate. The goalkeepers had limited mobility and visibility and we fighting off shots that surprised them in real time. Most players had snow flakes in their hair. From a distance, it appeared they had all had a bleached their tips or grayed significantly during halftime.
“It felt like back in fifth grade, playing tackle football on a snow day. It didn’t feel like a real game,” said midfielder Benny Feilhaber. “As much as it’s fun to watch, I hate playing in this crap. This isn’t football. We all stuck together and did a job. It felt like sand, the snow at the beginning of the game was 3-4 inches.”
— Last Word on Soccer (@LastWordSC) March 3, 2019
Feilhaber may have complained about the conditions, but he did manage to tie the game up 2-2 just minutes into the second half. With the red card, the Rapids subbed on Danny Wilson and Jack Price, going to a 4-2-2-1.
Portland appeared to take the lead for good in the 66th minute off a Deklan Wynne own goal. The visitors had been coming in waves for nearly 10 minutes (against the wind a might add). All it took was one defender slipping or one good bounce of the ball off the powder snow and a break was on for either team.
Like the goalkeepers, defenders had a poor time challenges crosses and shots with their footing. That forced late and off-balance reactions Wynne was unable to challenge a low cross by Any Polo and directed it into the nearside post with Tim Howard on the other side of goal.
The two sides traded chances in the final minutes, with Portland confident up a goal and a man despite the weather. Colorado with nothing to lose, had to go forward. A final substitution, bringing on rookie Andre Shinyashiki to play up top was a signal to the team.
— James Woollard (@BritVoxUS) March 4, 2019
The Rapids threw numbers forward in stoppage time. With the ball pinging around in the box as if the two sides were playing hot potato, the ball fell to Dillon Serna. Serna shot the ball towards goal, Jeff Attinela sent the rebound right to an unmarked Shinyashiki with a wide open goal. The rookie smashed the ball into the back of the net and ran towards the bench, making ski lines with his legs as he slid into the snow spraying mosh pit.
This was the second Snow Clasico I’ve attended in person and arguably one of the most fun soccer memories I’ve had as credentialed media (though it wasn’t fun at the time). I’d argue it was the most exciting MLS snow game of all time. It was Team Chaos and peak MLS craziness.
There might not have been 4,000 people in the stadium to witness Shinyashiki’s goal but everyone of them will have a fantastic story to tell for years to come.