TFC coach, players: Altitude in Colorado ‘not a huge deal’


Goalkeeper Clint Irwin, far right, in action for Toronto FC. (Adam Hunger/AP)

TORONTO — Sitting roughly 5,200 feet about sea level, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park has been touted as distinct advantage for the Colorado Rapids ever since it opened in 2007.

The Rapids’ home stadium has long believed to be a major obstacle for opposing teams—visiting players who are not accustomed to playing at altitude are thought to tire and fatigue more quickly because of the thin air. Toronto FC will be the latest opponent to face these “special conditions” when they visit the Rapids on Saturday evening, the Reds’ fourth match of an eight-game road stretch to open the Major League Soccer season.

But is the altitude of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park that much of an advantage for the Rapids? TFC defender Drew Moor and goalkeeper Clint Irwin don’t necessarily think so, and they speak from experience.

Moor played 188 games in 6 1/2 seasons in Colorado before signing with Toronto as a free agent in December. Irwin appeared in 90 games for the Rapids before being traded to TFC in January.

A former Rapids captain, Moor played at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park both for the home side and for the visiting team—he spent five years with FC Dallas before joining Colorado. He didn’t find it harder to breathe in the altitude of Denver, although he did discover his throat was more prone to drying up.

“I don’t think [the altitude is] a huge deal. Some guys will tell you it affects them but I felt like when I played for Dallas and we went and played [in Denver] there was not much of an effect on me,” Moor stated.

Irwin said “everyone reacts differently” to the altitude of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, but like Moor he downplayed it as a major factor.

“I think it’s more mental than anything,” Irwin offered. “It’s not necessarily physiological, at least in my opinion. When we were there we tried to play it up as much as possible, but I think it’s more of a psychological factor than anything.”

Even Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney, who played part of the 2007 MLS campaign with the Rapids, argues that most players in the league are fit enough where the altitude of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park shouldn’t bother them too much.

Like Irwin, TFC’s coach believes it’s more of a psychological factor “because it’s always talked about” whenever teams have to visit the Rapids.

Vanney said: “It’s an initial feeling that you get in warm-up, and at the start of the game when you’re in that first wind where you [say to yourself], ‘man, I’m having a hard time getting oxygen.’ It gets in your head that way, but I think once the game starts, once you settle in and once the second wind kicks in, it becomes less of a factor over the course of the game.”

The altitude does, however, have an effect on the ball, according to Vanney.

“The ball carries. Sometimes you think you’ve judged the flight of something and it just hangs up there a little longer,” Vanney explained. “Sometimes you see guys switch play from one side to another and it’ll end up in the first row because it travels a little bit farther than they’re used to.”

Irwin said shots come in harder and that goal-kicks tend to go five yards further at altitude compared to games played at sea level.

Perhaps the bigger issue to overcome for Toronto will be what Vanney describes as Colorado’s “high intensity” style.

“They want to put you under pressure and try to create some turnovers, and shorten the field for them in terms of trying to create attacks higher up the field,” Vanney said.

Vanney explained that Colorado plays a different type of pressing game compared to others teams in MLS

“It’s a matter of where you release the pressure from. With the [New York] Red Bulls, they release a lot more from their wingers to the centre backs. For Colorado, sometimes that pressure comes out of the midfield in the way of their attacking midfielder who will step out to a centre back. It’s slightly different in terms of where pressure comes from, meaning what spaces are left available when they come pressing,” Vanney said.

He also warned that the Rapids could change things up.

“They could decide to drop off and not press us. They could continue to press and do some of the things they do. We need to be aware of it, and know when certain things come, where the space is going to be available and how we want to play through it, and get to the other side ultimately,” Vanney said.

Toronto and Colorado sport identical 1-1-1 records, and both are coming off a bye following the international break.

Moor (stomach flu), and midfielders Daniel Lovitz (concussion) and Jonathan Osorio (knee) missed TFC’s last game, a 1-0 loss away to Sporting Kansas City. All three resumed training this week and will be available for selection on Saturday.

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