Like a flock of confused snowbirds, the English national soccer team flew into the furnace of South Florida hurricane season.
The first match of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is next Thursday, between the home team, Brazil, and Croatia. No European team has ever won a World Cup hosted in Latin America. Many would point to climate as one of -- if not the -- major obstacle.
Taking no chances, England is trying to acclimatize by training in South Florida.
The team arrived in Miami on Sunday, scheduled to play two friendlies against Ecuador and Honduras before heading to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. (England tied Ecuador 2-2 on Wednesday and faces Honduras at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday.)
On Tuesday, England opened the first 15 minutes of their practice at Sun Life Stadium to the press.
“Other side, Steven,” a coach yelled to Steven Gerrard, one of the world’s most famous soccer players. On a whistle, Gerrard took off -- darting between a cluster of cones with balletic footwork.
“Close it down,” the coach shouted, “good, Steven.”
The time was around 11 a.m. The temperature was 81 degrees, 67 percent humidity. In other words: gross.
Across the pond, in London, it was about 15 degrees cooler with 10 percent less humidity.
“Yeah, I think we all have to adapt,” said Frank Lampard after the practice. “Certainly the humidity and the conditions can suck a bit out of your legs.”
Back in December, when World Cup venues had already been identified but matches remained unscheduled, England coach Roy Hodgson started a fire by eschewing one site in particular: the city of Manaus, located in the middle of the rainforest.
“Manaus,” Hodgson said, “is the place ideally to avoid.”
In turn, the mayor of Manaus said England wasn’t welcome in his city anyway.
Of course, England drew its first World Cup match in Manaus. They play Italy on June 14. (Hodgson and the mayor have reportedly made amends.)
England’s preparatory acclimatization includes sweat monitoring, personalized sports drinks and seeking out hotter, more humid climates. Or at least trying to.
“We went to Portugal, which was meant to be a lot warmer than England,” said James Milner. “I think it was maybe slightly warmer. We wore extra layers there to help replicate the heat and help being uncomfortable and sweating.”
Milner said the team also tried working out in heat chambers. But their last ditch effort before sweating in Brazil is sweating in Miami -- where conditions are comparable to Manaus.
“Look, we’ve got an open bikram yoga studio, it’s called 'South Florida,'” said Kevin McGurgan, British Consul General in Miami.
McGurgan, a regular recreational soccer player, has lived in South Florida for the past four-and-half years.
“You can’t run 90 miles an hour for 90 minutes in order to win,” said McGurgan of how the Miami summer changes the game. “It becomes about, you know, you have a finite amount of energy in the 90 minutes to achieve your goal to win.”
The body begins to adjust within the first days of training in a temperature or climate.
“To get complete acclimatization would probably take anywhere from 10 to 14 days,” said Kevin Jacobs, a professor of exercise physiology at the University of Miami.
But there is no way to truly adjust to humidity. Temperature acclimatization is, in large part, teaching your body to sweat more. Sweat evaporates and then cools your body down.
The problem, Jacobs says, is in really humid places. Damp air fights against the sweat evaporation.
“And so you could be acclimatized (to temperature) and that humid environment, it still makes it difficult,” said Jacobs. “Because that sweat dripping off of you doesn’t do you any good.”
At Sun Life Stadium during Wednesday’s friendly between England and Ecuador, a rather sweaty Tom Harrison was learning all about humidity. On his first visit to South Florida, he and a friend just came to watch England from the stands and they were uncomfortable.
“I am, very, very hot,” admitted Harrison, “and that’s just from walking.”
Less than 10 minutes into the match, Ecuador scored on a beautiful header.
An English failure to acclimatize, perhaps?
“No,” said Harrison abruptly. “Bad defending.”
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