Columbus ready for altitude test in CONCACAF Champions Cup final

Columbus head coach Wilfried Nancy is aiming to add the CONCACAF Champions Cup to his team's MLS Cup crown (Maddie Meyer)
Columbus head coach Wilfried Nancy is aiming to add the CONCACAF Champions Cup to his team's MLS Cup crown (Maddie Meyer)

Columbus Crew coach Wilfried Nancy has put his players through a crash course in altitude training as they prepare to face Mexican side Pachuca at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level in Saturday's CONCACAF Champions Cup final.

Nancy's men could become only the fourth Major League Soccer team in history to be crowned continental champions with a victory in Saturday's showpiece, which is being staged at Pachuca's 30,000-capacity Estadio Hidalgo.

Given the historical dominance of Mexican clubs in the competition, the fact that Saturday's showpiece is taking place on their opponents' home turf would normally be daunting enough.

But the fact that Pachuca sits some 7,959 feet (2,426 metres) above sea level creates another challenge for Nancy as his team attempts to pull off what would be an unprecedented victory: no MLS team has ever lifted the Champions Cup outside of the United States.

Accordingly, Columbus have been doing their best to acclimatize to local conditions ahead of Saturday's showdown, which kicks off at 7:15pm local time (0115 GMT Sunday).

Columbus players have had altitude tents installed at their homes in the build-up to the game with instructions to spend as much time in them as possible. They have also been wearing elevation training masks during workouts in an effort to simulate the energy-sapping thin air expected in Pachuca.

"We're just trying to get as acclimated as we can," Columbus veteran Darlington Nagbe said.

"Every little helps. At the end of the day, though, altitude is altitude. It's two good teams playing against each other."

- 'Ping-pong' game? -

Nancy, meanwhile, will no doubt be mindful of the fate of the last MLS team who travelled to Pachuca. Philadelphia Union faced the Mexican club in the last 16 with hopes of progressing after securing a 0-0 draw in the first leg in Pennsylvania, but were thumped 6-0 at altitude.

Yet if any MLS team is equipped to handle the challenging conditions, it is Columbus, whose road to the final has already seen them defy the odds with a quarter-final victory over Mexican giants UANL Tigres followed by a superb semi-final win over Monterrey, which included a 3-1 second-leg victory on the road.

"Obviously, the team has done well against Mexican teams," Nagbe said. "It gives us a lot of confidence. But a final is different, whether you're home or away."

Nancy hinted this week that Columbus will aim to play a possession-based game in order to dictate tempo and conserve energy.

"It's how we manage the ball, and whether we manage the ball well," the Frenchman told a press conference. "If it's a ping-pong game it might be easier for them and not for us. If not, then maybe it will be vice-versa."

Nancy is also unduly concerned by the fact that Pachuca are well rested heading into the final. The Mexican side have not played since May 11, while Crew have been playing a normal league schedule, which included a 2-0 win over Orlando last weekend.

"At the end of the day it's a final," Nancy said. "And when you play a final, what I've learned is that even when a human being is tired, he can push 20% or 30% more if he wants.

"For us it doesn't change."

A win would be another impressive milestone on Nancy's coaching career after the 47-year-old from Le Havre guided Columbus to the MLS crown last year in his first season in charge.

Victory would also ensure Columbus' ticket to next year's expanded FIFA Club World Cup being staged in the United States.