It’s the exam period right now at universities and colleges throughout Canada and the United States. Students are huddled over books, computers and notes hoping all their studying will help them when the big day comes.
Toronto FC, in a way, can sympathize. They have been busy preparing for a big test of their own when they travel down to Estadio Azteca on Tuesday to play Club América in the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League semi-finals. Toronto FC may have aced the midterm — a 3-1 first leg win — but history tells us this series is far from over.
Sure, playing in one of the world’s most famous soccer stadiums sounds like a lot more fun than three hours desperately trying to piece together calculus 101. But when was the last time you were writing an exam and someone threw a battery at you? (Unless you go to Brock).
Like a straight-A student, Toronto has been preparing for what is perhaps their most daunting and important test of the year since training camp. That lengthy study period won’t guarantee them success in Mexico City, but they go into this match having done all of their homework.
Toronto FC started getting ready for this match in preseason, part of which they wisely spent in Mexico playing against Liga MX. This not only helped them prepare for the weather and type of teams they would be playing against, it also helped them get ready for the high altitude of the Azteca. This already paid off in their 2-0 CCL round of 16 win at altitude in Colorado.
One of those preseason matches came against Club América, although with a very different team sheet. Toronto lost that match 6-3, but the result nor the names on the backs of the opponent's shirts didn’t matter. It was the little taste of playing in Mexico City that could prove to be invaluable.
That preparation for both altitude and opponent has not stopped since the season began. In recent weeks, Toronto FC has been training with masks that simulate the altitude they will face on Tuesday. They also apparently have an outstanding amount of video on Club América, something that they’ve already likely taken advantage of in their home victory.
Those preparations were also given a huge boost when Major League Soccer moved this weekend’s game for them. This allowed the team to take a chartered plane on Thursday to Mexico.
Having almost a week to acclimatize is crucial. One of the things that the team figured out in preseason was that they would adjust a bit more to the altitude every day, so the more days they are able to spend there helps that adjustment period.
The team is also currently training at a higher altitude than the Azteca at the Universidad del Futbol, which is the training ground of Pachuca. This will make it easier for the players’ lungs to adjust on Tuesday when they step onto the field.
All of this is a reminder that as much as Toronto FC as a club has improved on the field, the front office has improved immensely as well. We aren’t just talking about player acquisition and development here, the club’s sports science, administrative and fitness staff deserve a lot of credit for the jobs they do as well.
So while Toronto steps into a building where many visitors have seen their Concacaf Champions League ended, they do so well prepared. This is the game they have been getting ready for all year, now all they have to do is go out and get a historic result.