Los Angeles (AFP) – United States coach Gregg Berhalter believes freezing temperatures can help his team take a giant stride towards a World Cup berth as CONCACAF’s qualifying race resumes on Thursday.

A pandemic-congested fixture schedule means that for the first time in history, teams battling for three automatic berths from North America, Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF), will be playing qualifiers in January.

That has handed the USA team a potential climatic advantage that Berhalter is eager for his team to exploit.

The USA, who are second in the standings with 15 points from eight games, one behind leaders Canada, open the triple-header with a home game against El Salvador in Columbus on Thursday.

Berhalter’s men then travel to Hamilton, Ontario to face Canada on Sunday, before returning to St. Paul, Minnesota next Wednesday to take on Honduras.

Temperatures at kick-off for the two home games against El Salvador and Honduras are forecast to be around 29 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 Celsius) — a factor that Berhalter believes could work in favour of the US squad.

“All the times we go down to Central America and we’re playing in the humidity and the heat and sometimes the smog and sometimes at altitude,” Berhalter said.

“This is an opportunity for us to gain an advantage on our opponents. They’re all coming from the Equator and it’s going to be really difficult for them to deal with these conditions. 

“They’re going to take a couple of breaths in and it’s going to hit them like they’ve never been hit before. 

– ‘Mind over matter’ –

“Our guys, who’ve been playing in Europe, in cooler temperatures, will be ready to go. We see it as a big window for us.”

Frigid weather conditions have worked to the Americans advantage before in World Cup qualifying. 

In 2013, the USA defeated Costa Rica 1-0 in Denver in a blizzard in an infamous game dubbed the “Snow Clasico.” 

In 2001, the USA beat Mexico in Columbus in another game played in sub-zero conditions.

Berhalter said he expects his players to embrace the icy blast expected to greet both teams on Thursday.

“It’s a mindset. It really is,” Berhalter said. “It’s important to drink warm liquid in the locker room and potentially wear gloves, put Vaseline on your feet before. I played in Germany when it was minus 15 Celsius, minus 20 Celsius and I played in short sleeves. And the reason why I did that was because it’s a mindset. It’s mind over matter. 

“Once you get running, once you get sweating, you’re good to go.” 

Maximum points from the two home games would push the USA to the brink of qualification with three more qualifying games to come in the March window.

American hopes of picking up points in Sunday’s away game against Canada have been boosted by the fact that the Canadians will be missing Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies.

Davies is recovering after being diagnosed with mild myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, following a positive Covid-19 case.

Canada, who themselves took advantage of icy weather to beat Mexico 2-1 in November, travel to Honduras on Thursday before returning for the USA game on Sunday. The Canadians wrap up the window with an away trip to El Salvador on February 2.

Canada coach John Herdman backed his squad to overcome the absence of Davies as his team chase a first World Cup appearance since 1986.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any excuses from us in this period of time,” Herdman said.

“I think we’ve shown we’re strong, we’re resilient. This is going to be tough, but qualifying for a World Cup is never easy.”

In other CONCACAF games, this week, third place Mexico face a trip to Kingston to face Jamaica before home games against Costa Rica and Panama.

Mexico are third in the standings with 14 points from eight games, leading fourth place Panama by goal difference.