2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, first leg
Real Salt Lake vs. Deportivo Saprissa at Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
Tuesday, 10 pm ET, FSC; concacaf.com
Real Salt Lake and Costa Rica side Deportivo Saprissa square off for the first time ever in meaningful action.
RSL earned a spot in the CCL semifinals thanks to a 4-1 aggregate victory over fellow MLSers, the Columbus Crew. Meanwhile, Saprissa fended off Olimpia 3-1 on aggregate to advance.
By virtue of the draw, Saprissa (second-place finisher in Group C) will open on the road at Real Salt Lake (first place in Group A).
The two teams have met once prior, in an exhibition match at Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2008 when Saprissa won by a 2-1 margin.
Both teams are well known for their home-field advantage, and Rio Tinto Stadium has been a fortress for RSL since its opening at the end of the 2008 season; the club is currently riding a 34-game unbeaten streak there. The ultimate victor of this series will likely be the team with the most success in the hostile environs of their opponent.
Saprissa will have to adapt to an unfamiliar situation as they’ve never played at Rio Tinto Stadium, and although the weather forecast calls for mild winter temperatures in Sandy, it will be significantly colder than the typical Costa Rican match.
El Monstruo Morado (the Purple Monster) will come into this match having a strong familiarity with RSL’s high-profile forward, Alvaro Saborio. The Costa Rican striker developed his reputation as a prolific striker with Saprissa between 2001 and '06 where he scored 95 goals in 149 matches. That stretch included two CONCACAF Champions' Cup final runs, including a victory in the regional championship and third-place finish at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2005.
Saprissa assistant coach Randall Row told La Nación that the best way to mark Saborío is in a zone format as opposed to man-marking. They’ll look to employ that defensive approach and keep him in check in the first leg.
The visitors will need to be mindful of discipline in this first leg as six players come into this match carrying a yellow: Ricardo Blanco, Alejandro Sequeira, Armando Alonso, José Mena, Roberto Wong and Walter Centeno.
Real Salt Lake
RSL were unfortunate to draw an opening home match in this series and will need to not just merely win, but make a statement at Rio Tinto Stadium. They would ideally prefer to make the return trip to San José with more than a one-goal lead.
In addition to needing an in-form Saborío, the team will also try to recreate their dynamic attack from two weeks ago when they beat Columbus in impressive fashion. However, they must also be very careful along the back line as Saprissa’s counterattack strategy will see them look to pounce on any opportunity that comes their way.
Defenders Tony Beltran and Nat Borchers will both be eligible for selection as they come off red-card suspensions in the quarterfinal series. Only two RSL players find themselves in yellow-card peril heading into this match: Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales.
“They’ve put a ton of hard work in and they’ve really bought into everything we’re trying to accomplish as a club,” RSL head coach Kreis explained about where his team currently stands. “I think we’re in as good a spot as we can be, but we’re nowhere near midseason form.”
Heroes & Villains
Álvaro Saborío vs. Saprissa's central defense: Saborío is an important element of the Real Salt Lake attack. His experience in this tournament has already proven to be an asset to his club as he is among the tournament leaders with seven goals. He’s still trying to regain full form after a knee injury and would likely prefer to do so against his former club.
The center of the Saprissa defense will need to lock things down tightly at Rio Tinto Stadium, where RSL has shown a potent attack. Saprissa typically lines up in a 4-3-2-1, and have shown the ability to remain compact defensively. They rely on the commitment from defenders and midfielders alike to bolster this position on the field. Although Oscar Duarte and Roberto Wong have primary responsibilities in central defense, former Revolution defender Gabriel Badilla will likely play a key role shoring up the backline, as will former RSL holding midfielder Douglas Sequiera.
Stat that makes you go, “Hmm...”
668 days: That’s the amount of time that will have elapsed from Real Salt Lake’s last loss at Rio Tinto Stadium (on May 16, 2009) and Tuesday’s kickoff against Saprissa.