He’s been anything but vintage Saprissa in recent weeks in league play ahead of their round of 16 first leg with the Philadelphia Union tonight in San Jose, Costa Rica.
The traditional Costa Rican powerhouse is winless in its last seven games and sits in third place.
“The New York Yankees can have a bad season, it can happen, but at the same time, when you talk about the New York Yankees, everyone knows who they are, ”Union head coach JIm Curtin said in a statement. pre-game press conference on Tuesday. “When you say Saprissa to the Americans, the United States, they know they’re one of the best teams in Costa Rica, if not the best.
Status aside, Saprissa’s recent form and the fact that they won’t have their notoriously loud fans seem to give Concacaf Champions League Newbies the Philadelphia Union a bit of an advantage. But Curtin said he doesn’t consider his team to be a favorite.
“There is no favorite,” Curtin said. “There are no easy games in football, so we recognize the challenge that lies ahead and then know that it will be a tough task ahead in Costa Rica.”
Saprissa has had great success in the past against MLS teams in the competition with a record of just three losses in 14 matches.
“In the last 10 years, when Saprissa was able to get a tie against an MLS team, they were the most successful and that’s when they did their deepest runs,” said Eddie Mendez, a New Yorker who covers Costa Rican football closely and manages the Twitter account @crcfutbol told me in an interview. “Having said all of that, I would say coming in this year it’s probably the lowest I’ve been on a Saprissa team, I would say at least in the last five to seven years.
The Union entered the game after making just four preseason appearances since their early exit from the playoffs in November. They scored a victory in their last game against DC United last week behind a double from Anthony Fontana. Saprissa has made eight appearances since the draw in February, with the only victory coming on February 21.
“Being able to be in good shape, to be in good shape, to have experience in the competition, I think that definitely has its weight in the first leg, especially with the first leg in Central America,” said Mendez. “It’s going to hurt not to have the crowd because I think the crowd is like a big factor for (Saprissa) and even worse for the national team.”
The 2021 competition officially kicked off last night with the kind of drama that is often a regular feature of Concacaf’s play. Atlanta united somehow beat Costa Rican league leaders Alajuelense 1-0 on a PK despite losing Brad Guzan to a red card in the 43rd minute and Portland has come back from a goal twice to lure Honduran club CD Marathón.
The most shocking outcome of the evening, however, was the Haitian club Arcahaie FC hold Mexican giant Cruz Azul to scoreless draw on Concacaf Champions League debut.
Whether these results are a good sign for the Union or not remains to be seen, but the pressing Union style that plagued the league last season en route to a fan shield could be a key factor.
“It’s a heavy reliance on buildup, it’s a heavy reliance on the wing game,” Mendez said of Saprissa’s approach. “But I would say the backline, especially this season, they’ve been very press sensitive. If you could push them higher and cut the center back of the full-backs, or even cut David Guzman who plays all six against the two attacking midfielders in front of him, that will lead to a lot of turnovers and that’s where Saprissa gave up on. a good part of its objectives. “
Although the results haven’t been there, Saprissa’s defense have only conceded six times in their last eight games.
Saprissa center-back Kendall Waston, who has played for FC Cincinnati the past two seasons and Vancouver Whitecaps for five seasons before, this is perhaps the most recognizable face on Saprissa’s list. Union fans will likely remember left-back Walter Cortes on his one-year loan spell with Bethlehem Steel. Other former MLS players include David Guzmán and Christian Bolaños.
“I think everyone in MLS circles will want to talk about Waston because they know him,” Mendez said. “There are two players in particular that I’m really high on and who I think have a future in Europe: Jordy Evans and Jimmy Marín.”
Evans is an 18-year-old right-back while Marín is a 23-year-old left midfielder. Other players to watch include Ariel Rodríguez, who is Saprissa’s Champions League top scorer with seven goals, captain Michael Barrantes and goalkeeper Aaron Cruz.
On the other hand, the Union will be without forwards Cory Burke and Sergio Santos and there will be question marks over Kacper Przybylko’s physical condition on the front line. Curtin said yesterday he was counting on some of his young players to close the game.
“They are a little injured, we are a little injured, and there will still be a good 90 minutes and things will be decided on the pitch,” said Curtin.
The match starts at 6:06 p.m. and will be broadcast live on FS1 and the Concacaf app.