SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica – This is one road trip that few Real Salt Lake players will be complaining about.
Ahead of Tuesday night’s decisive CONCACAF Champions League second-leg showdown against Deportivo Saprissa (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer), RSL left six inches of snow in Salt Lake City to be welcomed by breezy 60-degree temperatures on Sunday night here in the Costa Rican capital.
“It started snowing last night [in Salt Lake City] and we woke up this morning and were digging our cars out,” RSL veteran Nat Borchers told MLSsoccer.com after Sunday’s team dinner. “This [weather in Costa Rica] is awesome to see. It’s not too hot. It’s not too humid. I think it’s perfect.”
But the weather wasn’t even the best part of Sunday’s travel. The players got to relish the club’s first charter flight since MLS Cup in November 2009, which allowed the players to enjoy plenty of space, leg room and what Borchers called the “luxury” of plugging in electronic devices for the length of the trip.
“Nobody wanted to sleep,” Borchers said. “On a long flight like that you usually lose your battery power. It was nice.”
While RSL were coming off a bye weekend in league play, two off-days, an easy charter flight to Costa Rica and the prospect of playing in the best weather conditions of the young season, Saprissa were 24 hours removed from a 0-0 tie in domestic competition against Cartaginés. It was a match played in front of a small home crowd and one which the local papers called “boring.”
Saprissa’s Mexican manager, Juan Manuel Álvarez, rested veteran playmaker Walter Centeno ahead of Tuesday’s decisive encounter against RSL. However, three players who did see the field for the Costa Rican league leaders were former RSL midfielder Douglas Sequeira, José Mena and Ricardo Blanco, who will all miss the Champions League semifinal due to suspension.
Maykol Ortiz, the heir to Centeno who was employed off the bench by Saprissa in the first leg at Rio Tinto Stadium, also suffered what is being considered a serious hamstring injury during the scoreless tie. The Purple Monster need all the attacking help they can get as they face a 2-0 aggregate-goal deficit.
Meanwhile, the injury front is mainly clear for RSL. Despite many falling for Nick Rimando’s April Fool’s prank, the goalkeeper did not have surgery on the bone spur in his ankle and will bear the pain to start in goal. That is the extent of the injury worries with Tony Beltran and Robbie Russell recovering from minor knocks.
“I think we’re feeling confident,” Borchers said. “Given our result against LA, that gave us a big boost to win big against them. [Saprissa] are going to come at us early and managing the game is going to be the biggest factor for us. It’s going to be crucial to make sure we’re not giving anything up in the first 15 to 20 minutes.”
And so while many debate whether RSL should come out attacking for the goal that would seal the tie or defend their 2-0 aggregate-goal lead, the players are instead preaching “game management.”
“That’s just so huge at this stage of the game because if we’re going to give them something, we don’t want it to be early,” Borchers said. “You have to be switched on early. If they score an early goal, the crowd gets behind them and next thing you know you’re down two. Soccer is a game where one play can change everything.”