The Earthquakes face one of their toughest challenges in recent memory this week, as they take on Deportivo Toluca FC on the road in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series. After drawing 1-1 last week at Buck Shaw Stadium, the Quakes need a win or a draw with at least two goals scored to advance to the semifinals.
Complicating matters is a factor outside of the Quakes’ control: altitude. Estadio Nemesio Díez, the home stadium of Toluca, is at nearly 9,000 feet above sea level. It will be the highest elevation ever for an Earthquakes match.
“We started looking at this game at the end of last season because we knew we needed a plan,” said head coach Mark Watson. “We spoke to a number of experts in the field of altitude training, including Olympic team doctors and our own team doctors at Stanford. They gave us recommendations and we are executing those in order for our players maximize the performance.”
Based on the team’s schedule and the experts’ input, the Quakes team staff made the plan to travel to Mexico on Sunday and stay in a location at about half the elevation of Toluca for two days. Those two days would help ease the transition to the full altitude. Then the team would go into Toluca on Tuesday night and train one day there prior to the match on Wednesday.
Earthquakes head athletic trainer, Brian Lee, agrees about the acclimatization process. "The only way we can deal with this is actually play at that elevation. We're lucky that we have the opportunity to go a few days ahead of time."
In accordance with that plan, the Quakes arrived in Mexico City from the Bay Area and bused to a location just outside Cuernavaca on Sunday night. They will have one training session today and continue to get acclimated to the elevation before traveling tomorrow to Toluca for an evening training session at the stadium.
The team's travel schedule does not stop in Mexico though. After playing Toluca on Wednesday night, the team heads to Kansas City to continue regular season play.
Having four games in 11 days, Lee stresses the importance of athletes staying true to their bodies. "The biggest thing it's about how they recover and how they prepare. The guys always just want to play, but sometimes that is not always what is best for them."
The Earthquakes wrap up their road trip at Sporting Park on Saturday, facing Sporting KC at 5:30 p.m. PT.