COUVA, Trinidad & Tobago — Bruce Arena probably thought he had seen it all in CONCACAF during his years as U.S. national team coach, but even he was left flabbergasted at the flooding at Ato Boldon Stadium ahead of Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago.
Heavy rains in recent days left the running track around the stadium's soccer field flooded, with water visible on areas near the sideline. As the U.S. arrived for training Monday morning, the laughter and jokes soon followed.
"Is it deep?" Alejandro Bedoya wondered. Veteran DaMarcus Beasley emphatically stated that he can swim when Jozy Altidore asked if he would be OK to get across the makeshift moat.
Some players walked across the flooded track barefoot to avoid waterlogging their cleats, while others — including Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Altidore — were carried across by team staff. Bobby Wood tied plastic bags onto his cleats and walked over the track.
Arena surveyed the field and expressed his skepticism over the stadium staff's ability to remove the standing water. One water pump could be seen working to remove the water, in what could be best described as a futile exercise.
The conditions at the tiny stadium were extreme, even by CONCACAF standards.
Breaking: Bruce Arena calls up Michael Phelps for Tuesday's #USMNT qualifier. "He will be taking our corners & playing on the wing" pic.twitter.com/pRRy4aFaqa — Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) October 9, 2017
"I've never seen anything like this," former U.S. national team standout Marcelo Balboa told Goal. "We played on fields that were swampy and that kind of stuff, but I've never seen a track surrounded by this much water, and the day before the game."
Trinidad & Tobago officials reportedly moved the qualifier from its team's traditional home, Hasely Crawford Stadium, in Port of Spain to the much smaller Ato Boldon Stadium in order to cut costs on security. The match became much less of a priority once Trinidad & Tobago was eliminated from World Cup qualifying.
Now, that cost-cutting measure looks likely to lead to an ugly match in front of a sparse crowd, assuming the match is still played at Ato Boldon Stadium. It remains to be seen whether the field will be playable in time for kick off, with more rain expected Monday and Tuesday.
The U.S. heads into Tuesday's match needing a win or a draw to secure its place at the 2018 World Cup, and while the Americans were heavily favored to beat a young and already-eliminated Trinidad & Tobago side, the waterlogged field could serve as an equalizer that keeps the U.S. from dominating.
"First, the spongy field is going to take it out of their legs, it's going to wear them out," Balboa said. "The soggy field is going to affect how the ball rolls and bounces, it's just going to die. And if it comes in hard on an angle you know it's going to skip.
"I'm shocked they're going to play this game here," Balboa added. "I would have thought they would have moved it to the other stadium by now."