Cucho Hernández and his crew prepare for the Champions Cup final in Pachuca

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The Columbus Crew welcomes the return of star forward Cucho Hernández when they face Pachuca in Mexico for the Concacaf Champions Cup final on Saturday.

Hernández, the 2023 MLS Cup MVP, has missed the last three league matches due to back pain while the Crew has scored off-road victories in all of them. He has four goals and an assist in nine MLS matches and two goals in five Champions Cup matches.

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“The idea is that he’s going to be available. He wants to have a good game and we want that too,” Crew coach Wilfried Nancy said. “We are all happy that he is back and I hope he can put in a good performance.”

Saturday’s winner qualifies for the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup next summer in the United States. The 32-team field includes renowned clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, River Plate, Flamengo and Inter Milan.

The Crew can use all the help they can get to defeat Pachuca, who won their previous five Champions Cup (formerly Champions League) finals in 2002, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2017.

Columbus is looking to become the second MLS team in the modern era to win the Champions Cup (Seattle Sounders, 2022). Since 2011, Real Salt Lake, CF Montreal, Toronto FC and Los Angeles FC have lost in the final by a total of goals in two matches.

DC United (1998) and the Los Angeles Galaxy (2000) have won previous versions of the tournament.

“I think it’s a good moment for the team,” said Crew striker Diego Rossi, who has scored three goals in six Champions Cup matches this season. “It’s obviously a different competition, but I think the team is good and they work hard. For me it’s the most important thing to have a good match in the final.”

The match will be played at Estadio Hidalgo, located at 7,979 feet above sea level. Crew players were provided with altitude tents for home use and trained with altitude training masks.

“We’re just trying to acclimate as much as possible,” team captain Darlington Nagbe said. “Every little bit counts. But at the end of the day, altitude is altitude. These are two good teams going against each other.”

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