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Why Columbus Crew took part in altitude training ahead of Champions Cup final in Pachuca

Why Columbus Crew took part in altitude training ahead of Champions Cup final in Pachuca

As the Crew vie for the CONCACAF Champions Cup, a title that only one MLS team has won since the modern iteration of the tournament was created in 2009, they will be doing so nearly 8,000 feet above sea level.

Estadio Hidalgo, the home of the Crew’s upcoming opponents CF Pachuca in Pachuca, Mexico, sits at an altitude of 7,843 feet.

By comparison, the highest stadium peak in MLS is the Colorado Rapids’ home field, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, which sits around 5,200 feet above sea level. And the last time the Crew played there was in 2022. Half of their lineup has turned over since then.

So with this being unchartered territory for Columbus, coach Wilfried Nancy has had his team doing altitude training the past couple of weeks.

“We’re just trying to get as acclimated as you can to go into those conditions, anything helps,” said Crew captain Darlington Nagbe. “If you can get the exact same feeling, I think the little bit that you do can get your body adjusted, get you used to that feeling, you’re going to feel when you go over there.”

Apr 2, 2024; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Crew midfielder Darlington Nagbe (6) dribbles around Tigres UANL midfielder Juan Francisco Brunetta (11) during the first half of the Concacaf Champions Cup quarterfinal at Lower.com Field. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

Crew forward Christian Ramirez showed what some of the training entailed when, last week, he posted an Instagram story of a photo of himself and a row of his teammates working out on exercise bikes while wearing specialized masks.

But according to Nancy, for nearly the last two weeks, Crew players have also had altitude tents in their homes. The tents replicate the feeling of being close to 7,000 feet above sea level. Nancy and his staff asked players to sleep and do other daily activities in these tents.

“This is something normal,” Nancy said. “We didn’t invent anything. We just did something we think could be good for the players.”

While the Crew are heading into the second-highest Liga MX stadium, (Club Deportivo Toluca’s Estadio Nemesio Diez sits at an altitude of 8,750 feet), Nancy is trying to keep his team from hyper-focusing on this one aspect of the match against Pachuca.

After all, there will be other challenges. In Pachuca, conditions are likely to be hot and humid. The forecast for Saturday around kickoff is predicted to be in the low 70s with 34% humidity.

May 25, 2024; Orlando, Florida, USA; Columbus Crew forward Diego Rossi (10) controls the ball against Orlando City in the second half at Inter&Co Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Fortunately for the Crew, they had a chance to prepare for that kind of temperature last week when they faced Orlando City SC on the road in an MLS regular-season match.

“It was a good exercise for the players,” Nancy said. “The weather, the opposition and everything. It was good for the players to see that. It was good for the players to recognize when we have to adjust when we attack or to defend. Pachuca is going to be something different because the ball is going to fly.”

Playing against Pachuca, a club that has won five Champions Cup trophies and has never lost in the tournament’s final, will be a test. Pachuca is an aggressive team and, having finished its Liga MX schedule on May 11, the team’s coaches have had more time to scout the Crew.

More: Cucho Hernandez expected to be available for Columbus Crew in Champions Cup final

With both this year’s Champions Cup and a spot in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup being awarded to the winner of this upcoming match, the Crew are doing all they can to take home the victory. But altitude training is just a small part of that.

“The most important, and I just told my players, is not about what we do with the masks and so on,” Nancy said. “This is about what we do on the pitch, this is the most important. Because, if we don’t have the ball, if we don’t have the ball, we are going to be out of breath.”

bmackay@dispatch.com

@brimackay15

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus Crew use altitude training to prepare for Champions Cup final

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