MONTREAL - As the Montreal Impact prepare to play their first Major League Soccer game in Colorado, they're faced with challenge of the Rapids' Mile High home-field advantage.
Coach Jesse Marsch got his players out West early enough to put in a pair of training sessions leading up to Saturday night's game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
Marsch, one of only three players to compete in each of the MLS's first 14 seasons, has his own opinion of the best approach in adjusting to the thinner air.
"The research tells you that you're only supposed to go for 24 hours," he said before the Impact flew to Colorado. "I'm not above scientists but my experience is that actually the earlier you get there that you have time to acclimate.
"I do think that us getting there and even training a couple of days in the altitude will help us understand exactly what it's going to be like."
Located in Commerce City in the eastern outskirts of Denver, the Rapids' 18,000-seat stadium sits some 5,200 feet above sea level.
Having spent his first 10 seasons in the MLS with Kansas City before he was traded to Montreal, Davy Arnaud is also very aware of the conditions he and his teammates need to overcome.
It's a high-level adjustment that can take even a well-conditioned soccer player's breath away.
"It's not easy," the Impact captain said. "You definitely feel it a little bit in the first half until you can kind of get your second wind, and then once you get through that first 15 or 20 minutes you seem to adjust OK to it.
"You can tell the difference but it's not too, too big where it's going to affect you for a whole game."
Acquired from Colorado in November, midfielder Sanna Nyassi played 26 games with the Rapids last season after spending his first two years in the MLS with Seattle.
The five-foot-eight, 150-pound Gambian fully appreciates the difference between playing at sea level and competing on a pitch that has the Rockies serving as a backdrop.
"That's a huge advantage for them but we don't have to focus on that," Nyassi said. "All we have to focus on is playing our game and we'll be all right."
Denver native Collen Warner sees room for improvement against the Rapids on both sides of the ball.
"There's definitely some timing issues and the quality of our passes could be better," said the Impact midfielder. "It's definitely something we're working on every day to get better at because we definitely need to score a few more goals, but at the same time we also need to work on our defence. If you keep clean sheets it makes the game a lot easier."
Besides the challenging environment, the Impact will be looking to bounce back from the team's second tough loss to New York.
Montreal's 2-1 loss to the Red Bulls also ended a four-game unbeaten streak, its longest to date. It also denied the MLS expansion team an unbeaten tenure at Olympic Stadium, where it posted a 2-1-2 mark through ongoing expansion and renovation work at adjacent Saputo Stadium.
With capacity up from 13,034 to 20,341, the outdoor pitch behind Olympic Stadium's iconic leaning tower will play host to Seattle for its first MLS game on June 16 when the season resumes.
It was a week of good news for the Impact, who signed Italian striker Marco Di Vaio as the team's first designated player Thursday.
Di Vaio and his family are expected to arrive in Montreal on Sunday night. He will be eligible to play when the transfer window opens on June 27.
The Serie A veteran will join fellow Italian internationals Bernardo Corradi and Matteo Ferrari with the Impact.
"I know him very well because we played together in Parma and on the national team so I know how he plays, I know how he is good on the field," Ferrari said. "He's a clever guy. He's a scorer so for sure he's a player that can help us for the rest of the season."
The Impact also scheduled an international friendly July 24 against France's Olympique Lyonnais.
Since losing their first five road games, Montreal is on a two-game unbeaten streak away from home, including a surprising 2-0 result in Kansas City on May 5 for its first road win.
Colorado, which is winless in its last two games, has made the most of its tilted field. The Rapids are 5-6-1 overall, but they have maintained a 3-1-1 mark at home.
"I think all we've got to do is mind their intensity because they work really hard," Nyassi said. "They work as a team and they've got each others' backs. They've got a pretty good experienced midfield but if we mind the intensity, we'll be good."
Notes: Zarek Valentin and Justin Mapp have calf injuries and neither made the trip. ... Josh Gardner is also sidelined because of tendinitis in his left hamstring.
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