PACHUCA, Mexico – No pain, no gain.
For the players of Toronto FC, the age-old cliché has taken on a new meaning since arriving in the mountains of Mexico on Thursday afternoon.
The infamous altitude of the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City has long troubled visiting teams from Canada and the United States, wearing them down physically and giving the home team a decided advantage. But the Reds are doing everything in their power to fight back against the elements.
Ahead of their return leg against Mexican giants Club América, there is reason to believe that they will not only adapt and survive, but thrive.
“It was short and sharp, a lot of playing which we always like,” defender Drew Moor said of the team’s first training session at the Universidad del Futbol, home of Liga MX side C.F. Pachuca. “Over the next few days we’ll really push our fitness to burn the lungs a little bit.”
After seeing their weekend MLS fixture moved to June, the Reds set their sights on the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League semifinal, departing for Mexico just two days after their 3-1 victory at BMO Field.
“The main reason to get here early is get to acclimated to the altitude and the heat,” Moor told TorontoFC.ca. “It’ll be a tough atmosphere, a hostile environment, but we’re doing everything we can to get ready for another battle on Tuesday.”
“The altitude here is real,” he continued. “We felt it in preseason playing in those friendly matches, and you feel it here as soon as you start warming up. It’s real and it’s something we’ve prepared for in Toronto; that can’t be an excuse come Tuesday night.”
Labouring through is all part of that process, according to Greg Vanney. A former U.S. international, the head coach has experienced the Azteca first hand and knows exactly what his squad will be feeling come Tuesday night.
“You have to push through,” he said. “We have the fitness level there, but your body is going to have its moments where it feels like you’re having a hard time getting oxygen. You just need to push through it, that’s the message from experience.
“We did as much as we could in Toronto, but it’s good to get down here and feel it again, work through it, and get used to what your body is going to feel like during stretches of the game.”
Splitting their time between Pachuca and Mexico City, the Reds will experience an even tougher task in the first part of their training stint as Pachuca sits nearly 200 metres higher than the Mexican capital. And two months after their first trip, Vanney is confident that things will be different this time around.
“The guys know what to expect. We’re considerably further along in our fitness levels than when we first arrived in preseason [in February],” Vanney said. “We’re in a better starting position now and we’ll take the next few days to prepare ourselves for the game—physically, mentally, tactically—so that we can go out on Tuesday and get a result.”