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Coaches explain ideal weather conditions for a World Cup soccer match
Jun
24
2018
While the talent level for the 32 teams in the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia will vary — some may have better goalkeepers, others may an abundance of offensive talent — whenever two teams are competing on the same field, the weather conditions are a factor both teams must include in their gameplans.

As billions around the world gather to watch the biggest sporting event on Earth, they will cheer for their favorite players or respective countries. As for the players, they may end up rooting for good weather.

If soccer players could have their choice of weather for a match, they would likely start with zero humidity and little wind, according to Ian Barker, the director of coaching education for United Soccer Coaches, an organization that provides programs and services for coaches at all levels of the sport.

“In my opinion, the single biggest drag to a soccer player is excessive wind,” said Barker, formerly the head coach of the men’s soccer team at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Windy conditions make it harder for athletes to play technically and tactically. If one team has the wind at their back in the first half then during the second half when they go into the wind, they will have to make adjustments, according to Barker.

While playing in strong winds isn’t as physically taxing as high heat and humidity levels, it can be an annoying factor in a match. Wind can be distracting and affect how a player directs the ball on the field.

“It impacts both teams differently,” Barker said, adding it’s his least favorite weather condition to play in.

Jeff Cook, the head men’s soccer coach at Penn State University, echoed Barker's sentiments that wind can wreak havoc on the quality of play.

“It really affects the ability for teams to progress the ball up certain areas of the field,” Cook said. “It can really be difficult, for example, to attack the ball into a strong wind.”

Moisture on the field can have a big impact on play, as it allows the ball to move faster and the quality of passes can improve.

In professional and international soccer, the fields are often watered via sprinkler systems before the games to ensure the conditions are optimal.

Cook pointed out that too much rain can be a detriment as it may result in standing water, particularly at lower levels of the sport where state-of-the-art drainage systems aren’t as common. Standing water can cause the ball to stick and not move around as easily.

Most of the host cities in Russia during the time of the tournament experience average highs in the upper 60s to low 80s Fahrenheit, with July being the hottest month, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls.

If those temperatures were to hold throughout the tournament and humidity would remain low, that would likely be ideal for soccer, according to Barker.

"If it's a choice between cold and hot, I think most of us would rather play in temperate conditions to cold [weather], as opposed to temperate conditions to hot [weather]," he said.

Excessive heat and humidity can be challenging to players that have to perform a high volume of high-speed running, especially in international soccer, when teams are only granted three substitutions per match, according to Cook.

Sweltering conditions have been an issue at past World Cups.

During the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, cooling breaks were necessary for certain matches, including the contest between Netherlands and Mexico.

In the 1994 World Cup in the U.S., a heat wave gripped much of the country. Making matters more difficult was the fact that many matches were scheduled in the early afternoon to account for primetime viewing audiences in Europe.

Among the host sites that year included the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, and the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, which were described as "blast furnaces," according to USA Today.

Some teams from Europe arrived in the U.S. about two weeks early to acclimate to the heat and humidity, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will not be played in its usual June-July timeframe. That event will take place from Nov. 22 to Dec.18 to avoid the scorching summertime heat.
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