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Darlington Nagbe leads Columbus Crew against Pachuca in search of Concacaf Champions Cup glory

Written by on May 31, 2024

On Saturday night, the Columbus Crew will have a chance to make history as they face Pachuca in the Concacaf Champions Cup final in Mexico. With a spot in the Club World Cup and continental glory on the line, it’s a moment that shows what Wilfried Nancy has built in such a short time in Columbus as he has a chance to follow an inaugural season where he won the MLS Cup with an even bigger prize in becoming only the second MLS team to ever win a Champions Cup final.

MLS has been improving in the competition. The previous three finals have been played between MLS and Liga MX teams with one being won by MLS. It’s something that Columbus Crew midfielder Darlington Nagbe acknowledged in the lead-up to the match. With players like Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in Major League Soccer, the league has come a long way from where it was when Nagbe entered in 2011, but one constant has been him filling up his trophy cabinet.

“It shows that the league is growing which is great not just for MLS, but for the players as well so it’s definitely exciting,” Nagbe said to CBS Sports.

Captaining the Crew on this journey, there’s a certain zen that comes over both Nagbe and the team because they’ve been here before, but also because Nancy knows how to prepare his teams down to the most minute details. Since the Crew will be playing at Estadio Hildago, which sits at an altitude of 7,843 feet, they’ve prepared by doing altitude training before traveling to Mexico. From masks in training to simulate the lack of air, to players sleeping in altitude tents, there isn’t a detail that wasn’t covered and that’s before you get to Nancy’s tactical setups on the pitch.

“[The altitude training] is to try and get as acclimated to those conditions as you can. Anything helps, so a little bit that you can do here, even if you can’t get the exact same feeling, a little bit that you do to get your body adjusted and get you used to that feeling when you go over there helps,” Nagbe said about how the training is helping the team get acclimated.

“It’s just to replicate the type of air that you’re going to be breathing in and breathing out as you’re over there. I think the mask and the things that they set up for us are to replicate that the best it can. You’d have to ask the science guys.”

Knowing that Pachuca will press the Crew and do their best to tire them, the Crew are preparing to be pressed at altitude and having a midfield of Nagbe and Aidan Morris is quite an advantage. The duo have already won MLS Cup together and Morris has grown as a player since when he needed to step in for Nagbe in the Crew midfield due to Nagbe missing the 2020 MLS Cup due to Covid. Now together again in midfield, they’re two players who know what’s expected of them.

“My role now is being available for when the next pass is not just on offense, but if we do win the ball and it does turnover being available being there and able to press them to win the ball back. That’s the biggest thing myself and Aidan we’re tying to do well is be close to each other,” Nagbe said. “Trying to give the team an opportunity to play out and break the press and get it to the key guys so they can try and make plays for us.”

While Nagbe makes things sound simple due to his experience, if the Crew can win the midfield battle by keeping the ball away from Oussama Idrissi and Salomon Rondon, they’ll have a great chance to quiet the Pachuca fans and push for a victory. With Diego Rossi and Cucho Hernandez leading the Crew attack, one Pachuca turnover can prove to be fatal if execution is right in the match.

This is why drilling down details but keeping things loose is so important for their preparation. There’s no right way to prepare for a cup final, but there is always a chance that a team can feel the nerves which can cause them to fall apart in a big moment. The Crew aren’t one of those teams. On the verge of the most important game in club history, they’re acting like a team that has been there, because under Nancy they have. Now it’s down to execution, but when they know who they are, it only makes facing a tough challenge like Pachuca away easier.

How to watch and odds

  • Date: Saturday, June 1 | Time: 9:15 p.m. ET
  • Location: Estadio Hidalgo — Pachuca de Soto, Mexico
  • TV: FS1 | Live stream: Fubo (try for free)
  • Odds: Pachuca -170; Draw +310; Columbus Crew +440

The post Darlington Nagbe leads Columbus Crew against Pachuca in search of Concacaf Champions Cup glory first appeared on CBS Sports.

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