New England Revolution

Revolution prepare for difficult Champions League clash in Mexico City

"That game was one of the craziest things that’s ever happened to me on the field."

Revolution Champions League
Revolution and Pumas players at Gillette Stadium prior to the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal. AP Photo/Mary Schwalm

Having surrendered three goals in the final 15 minutes of Saturday’s loss to Real Salt Lake, the Revolution will be acutely aware of the stakes entering the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal clash with Pumas UNAM on Wednesday night.

New England won the first leg 3-0 at Gillette Stadium a week ago. All that needs to be done in the second leg — 10:15 p.m. tonight at Estadio Olmypico Universidad — is to avoid a complete collapse. And since CONCACAF still uses the away goals rule, any additional Revolution goal would act as a tiebreaker, forcing Pumas to score five times in order to advance.

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Yet despite the appearances of an almost unassailable position, Revolution players are only days removed from seeing just how quickly a seemingly comfortable margin can evaporate into the thin, snowy air.

Leading Salt Lake 2-0 late in the second half over the weekend, a flurry of late goals from the visitors amid a snowstorm set up a stunning 3-2 home defeat.

“That game was one of the craziest things that’s ever happened to me on the field,” Revolution midfielder Sebastian Lletget told reporters Tuesday. “Being up 2-0 then going down 3-2 in 10 minutes. It’s like the soccer gods are talking to us and preparing us for this Pumas game, because that’s something that can happen. That’s just the reality of this game. You lose focus for a couple minutes, let alone over 90 minutes, and things can change really fast.

“The mood’s been OK,” Lletget said of the team’s spirit. “We’re always at a six or seven around here. We’re never too high, never too low. I think that’s another strength of ours: our mindset that we bring. I think it’s another great lesson. I think it came at a perfect time in a weird way, so it’s going to help us.”

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The jarring lessons from the defeat might be tested immediately in Mexico City. New England will be the visitors this time, playing in a famous stadium — once the site of Tommy Smith and John Carlos’s Olympic 1968 protest — in front of a passionate crowd of Pumas supporters.

“That’s the beauty of these types of tournaments,” Lletget said. “You go to New England and you play in Foxborough [with] the weather and you have to play on artificial turf, and that’s an advantage for us. Now we go to Mexico and it’s going to be a crazy environment. We don’t know exactly the weather yet, but the altitude’s going to play a part.”

Indeed, the altitude of the game will be at over 7,500 feet above sea level. And while there won’t be snow this time — a fact which Carles Gil will undoubtedly enjoy — the thinner air could play a role, especially in the second half.

Fortunately for New England, head coach Bruce Arena has ample experience coaching the away team in Mexico City. As former manager of the U.S. men’s national team, Arena knows that it could be worse.

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“My experience in the past is it’s a factor, but we have conditioned athletes and they’re well informed as to what to expect, so we’ll be as hydrated as we can be,” he said. “We’re fortunate that we’re playing in the evening and not during the day where, obviously, the temperatures are a lot warmer, so I think we’ll be fine.”

One aspect Arena is well aware of is the inevitable tactical changes that Pumas will make. After playing a more conservative lineup with a five-man defense in the first leg, Pumas will have to switch to a more attacking approach.

New England, meanwhile, will look to shore up its own defense and try to hold onto the existing advantage. Arena had a characteristically blunt response when asked if the team will play differently than in the first leg.

“Common sense would tell you our approach is certainly different,” Arena responded. “We don’t need we don’t need to score goals. They do.”

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