SANDOR: As CPL enters summer, clubs must ‘be careful’ in sweltering heat

EDMONTON – If there’s one thing that unites us as Canadians, it’s talking about the weather.

“Did you see that it was only 7 Celsius on Canada Day for that FC Edmonton game?”

“Wait, was there snow at a game at Spruce Meadows?”

“What do you mean ‘game postponed by smoke?'”

“Thunderstorm delay.”

Yup, while the Canadian Premier League only kicked off near the end of April, we’ve already seen four seasons’ worth of weather extremes.

And, as we enter a hectic July and August schedule, the weather demands will likely only get tougher on teams. Let’s face it; in most of the world, soccer is seen as a winter sport. But, in many parts of Europe, Asia and South America, their winter season means “cool” not “-30 before wind chill.” Still, the game really isn’t meant to be played in punishing heat. Think of all the World Cup matches you’ve seen played in July summer conditions that end up being pedestrian, cagey affairs. You simply can’t ask a player to expend the same kind of energy when the mercury hits 30C as you would when it’s, say, 10C.

But, in Canada, we have no choice but to play in the summer. And it can get pretty hot in some parts of Canada. We saw that last weekend in Hamilton, when, despite the rain, it hit 29C. And, factor in the humidity, and it felt like well over 30C on the pitch.

So, FCE coach Jeff Paulus not only planned for the Forge’s ability to move the ball from midfield to the attack, but to manage his players through steamy conditions. He knew that he couldn’t ask them for the same amount of pace he might expect from a cool spring or autumn match.

“We worked very hard, we had two banks of four,” he said. “But when the conditions are hot and sticky, you have to be smart about it.”

He said a lot of teams will face weeks where they play on the weekends then have to go again midweek. In sapping hot conditions he said you have to “be careful” when it comes to your players. You have to pick your spots. You have to manage the pace of the games and the schedule.

When Edmonton visits York9 next weekend, it could be even worse. Environment Canada’s long-term forecast is calling for a game-time temp of around 29C, but with the humidity it should feel like 35 or 36C. To an Albertan, that’s stay-home-and-hide weather. It will be reminiscent of those FC Edmonton road trips to places like Atlanta, San Antonio or Cary, N.C. in the summer, where games were played in extreme heat.

So far, in the prairies, it’s been an unusually cool, wet summer. But, that will have to change sometime. And when the sun beats down on the artificial surfaces in places like Winnipeg and Edmonton, the field temp can be much higher than what you see on the Environment Canada bulletins. That black rubber used in field turf soaks up heat and reflects it.

In Ontario, York9 and Forge will play home games in stifling, humid conditions. That Great Lakes wet heat isn’t like anything you’ll feel in the rest of Canada, and road games in those stadiums will be a test for teams.

And, when the temperature comes up, can Cavalry FC play its famous “90 minutes of hell” press-all-over-the-field game? It will be a massive fitness test for coach Tommy Wheeldon’s men.

Forge will also soon be heading to Guatemala for CONCACAF League action; and chances are that Cental America in the height of the summer will be, at best, sweltering — at worst, “maybe turn it down a bit so it only feels like the third level of hell.”

We will have to see if the warmer weather forces coaches to use more of their benches, alter playing styles or change the way they train. Because playing soccer in the height of summer changes the game.