Major League Soccer’s championship, the MLS Cup, will be played Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
The match, set for the latest date in the 18-year history of the league, is also expected to be the coldest championship in league history. But, are temperatures in the 20s under these wintry conditions seem appropriate for an outdoor soccer game?
"That’s not what I think of as soccer conditions," says Sporting Kansas City season ticket holder Jessie Williams.
But Jessie Williams grew up on a dairy farm near Jefferson City, Mo., so she’s accustomed to freezing conditions and it won’t stop her and her husband Adam from attending the MLS afternoon title match, where temperatures are expected to reach the mid-20s as a high.
"We will be there. We will be there," says Williams. "I have long underwear, and heat pads for my hands and feet ready."
Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmie Nielsen is from Denmark. He has never played a professional game in his home country, but remembers what it was like playing with his friends.
"It was very cold. You play in snow. Denmark can be a pretty windy country as well," he says. "I’ve tried all this cold before, but it’s still something you don’t get used to. It’s even cold for me."
Teammate Paulo Nagamura, from Brazil, says he has adjusted to the Midwest climate over the last month. To reach the final, Sporting defeated the Houston Dynamo almost two weeks ago with the temperature at 22 degrees, at that time a record for the chilliest match in MLS history.
Nagamura noticed a change in the natural playing surface during that match.
"It was a little different because of the cold weather. It was a little harder," he says. "They tried actually to throw some water (on), but it was so cold that it got frozen."
The league has never held an MLS Cup match in December before. In previous years, the season was over by late November, but because of league expansion and working with international schedules, the season was stretched out further this year.
MLS commissioner Don Garber admits the league is discussing a potential schedule shift.
"We will continue to look at it. We’ve looked at it more deeply this time around than any time before," Garber said in his State of the League address. "We went through fairly extensive discussions as a league to figure out if we can do this sometime in the future."
A record crowd of more than 21,000 attended the conference final match and the title match is sold out. This will be Sporting Kansas City’s first appearance in the MLS title game since 2004. Real Salt Lake won the league championship in its only title game appearance four years ago.