Sunny skies and relatively cooler temperatures descended upon Berea Friday afternoon.
So did the U.S. men's national team, who practiced at the Browns' training facility ahead of their third match of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup against Nicaragua Saturday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"For us right now, we've been in two very difficult markets with the heat and humidity in Nashville and Tampa. And we feel like were in the winter now being in Cleveland," head coach Bruce Arena said with a wide smile. "It's a beautiful day here. We're honored to be in the Browns facility."
Arena, a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame who coached the 2002 U.S. men's team to World Cup quarterfinals, also made clear he's well-aware of Cleveland's rich past as one of the NFL's iconic franchises.
"I'm a Long Island guy and lacrosse player, so I remember this guy by the name of Jim Brown — he grew up a couple of towns from me and we both played lacrosse, that's the only thing we have in common," said Arena, an All-American lacrosse player at Cornell. Brown, the legendary Browns running back and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, was a star at Syracuse.
"I always followed the Browns in the early days with Jim and Lou 'The Toe' Groza," Arena continued, "so it's great to be here. It's a beautiful facility, and we hope to have a good result tomorrow."
Saturday's match marks the first meeting between the U.S. and Nicaragua and final contest of the Gold Cup's Group Stage. The U.S., who defeated Martinuiqe, 3-2, Wednesday in Tampa, leads Group B with four points. After Group Stage, the top two teams from each group (A, B, C) and the top two third-place finishers advance to the quarterfinals. The U.S. has captured five Gold Cup titles.
Arena said Saturday is his second visit to FirstEnergy Stadium and first since 2006. For defender Justin Morrow, a Cleveland native and former St. Ignatius High School standout, this weekend doubles as something of a homecoming.
"For me, this is where it all started," said Morrow, who plays for Toronto. "I grew up in Cleveland playing club here all around the city, so to be back here is a dream."
Cleveland was one of 13 metropolitan areas to be named a host city for the 14th edition of the 2017 Gold Cup. Taking place every two years, the CONCACAF Gold Cup is the official national team championship of the region, which includes North and Central America and the Caribbean. Drawing large crowds and millions of television viewers across the region, the Gold Cup is a celebration of soccer, sportsmanship, and culture.
Last summer, FirstEnergy Stadium held a rematch of the 2015 women's World Cup final as the U.S. women's national team defeated Japan in the second leg of a two-game friendly between the teams. With 23,535 fans in attendance, it marked the largest crowd ever to watch a WNT game in Ohio.
FirstEnergy Stadium last hosted the U.S. men's team in 2013 for a game against Belgium, the first international soccer game at the stadium since Arena's club in 2006.
"We know it's a great facility, we hope to have some good support," Arena said of the stadium. "It's just great to be here. Ohio's been a very good state for the sport of soccer over the years … we hope to put on a good show."