For decades, US sides – both the US national team and several MLS clubs – have generally suffered pain and loss on visits to Mexico, where most stadiums are located at lung-burningly high altitudes.
But FC Dallas are doing everything in their power to prevent that from affecting their CONCACAF Champions League fate. FCD have committed extensive resources and planning to their preparations for Tuesday’s CCL semifinal second leg clash with Pachuca, whose Estadio Hidalgo home sits about a mile and a half above sea level compared to Frisco, Texas’ 774 feet.
Dallas flew to nearby Puebla, Mexico on Wednesday, then worked through two-a-day training sessions on Thursday and Friday, including a 60-minute friendly vs. Club Puebla’s reserves on Friday night, in a schedule crafted to get the players’ bodies and minds accustomed to head trainer Skylar Richards calls an “oxygen-deprived situation.” (See FCD’s video on the process above.)
The plan – made possible by the postponement of FCD’s weekend league match vs. the Colorado Rapids – is to be as acclimated as possible by Tuesday night.
“It’s a good step for us to get ready for the altitude, because after a couple days here you can really tell the difference, even from a place like Colorado, which is pretty high,” defender Matt Hedges told MLSsoccer.com on Monday.
“You can definitely feel it. It shouldn’t change the way we play too much, I feel like we’ve been here long enough that we’re accustomed to it. We think we can play our game the way we want to.”
In essence, it’s a mini-training camp, and one that head coach Oscar Pareja says will have benefits beyond Tuesday’s match.
“Also we wanted to spend some time with the group and be ready for the season, for the long season ahead,” he said on Monday.
FCD made the two-hour journey from Puebla to Pachuca by bus on Monday, with players feeling confident ahead of what they know will be a stern test at the home of one of Mexico’s top clubs.
“They have a lot of skillful players, they’re very good on the counterattack,” said FCD defender Walker Zimmerman. “Stopping their counterattack is going to be a big thing for us, and staying extremely organized as a back four, too. That’s been a big focus this week and it’s one of our principles tactically, to keep that organization between the back six players. So I think we’re all going to have to be tuned in and make sure that we can’t take a second off. Because that second could be the difference between making it to our first final in international play, or not.
“The key thing is not to try to drop off too early – if it’s getting late in the game and we still have the lead on aggregate, we’ve still got to continue to play the way that we’ve been playing.”
For many of Dallas’ regulars, Tuesday ranks as one of the biggest games in their careers, and Pareja has urged them to seize the moment.
“It’s massive, not only for the club, but also for individuals,” said Zimmerman. “It’s a high-profile game, a chance to move on to a final in international competition, which is something that we’ve never done as a club in Dallas. So we’re looking to make history this week.
“Every time you get a chance to play at the international level, people are always watching, and it’s another chance for you to showcase your own abilities on the field. So I’m excited for the opportunity on that aspect as well.”