Deportivo Saprissa vs América – Wednesday, February 21, 5PM PT/8PM CET –Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Aymá, San José, Costa Rica.
The CONCACAF Champions League returns this week under a new format. Liga MX sides and the big clubs from Central America will now enter the competition that began with the Caribbean Cup and CONCACAF League last fall.
As a result, of the competition technically starting with regional leagues in 2017, both Deportivo Saprissa and Club América qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League in 2016. Club América qualified after finishing second in the 2016 Apertura behind Tigres, who also won the 2017 Clausura, which in turn cleared the path for América to take one of Mexico’s four spots in the competition.
Costa Rica have two spots receiving one berth from the suspended National Football Federation of Guatemala. Deportivo Saprissa, therefore, qualified as the 2016 Invierno champions—the opening stage and equivalent of the Apertura in Mexico.
Part of Pot 2 Saprissa are ranked tenth in CONCACAF co-efficient standings and should, therefore, be considered as one of the outsiders in the competition. But Costa Rica is a powerhouse in CONCACAF, and the country’s club sides have traditionally done well in continental competitions. Saprissa have won the 2005 CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, the predecessor of the Champions League, on three occasions (1993, 1995 and 2005). They are also Costa Rica’s record champion with 33 titles ahead of rivals Alajuelense (29 titles) and fellow Costa Rican Champions League side Herediano (26 titles).
Saprissa, in fact, are always a difficult away tie to play for any club coming down from Liga MX or Major League Soccer. Playing their home games at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Aymá, more commonly known as La Cueva del Monstruo (the Monster’s Cave) the stadium is known for its swaying main stand and ferocious atmosphere, as well as a graveyard for the big sides from the continent.
Many big sides have come here and found themselves at the hand of a major defeat. The most recent example are Portland Timbers. The reigning MLS champion at the time faced Saprissa in September 2016 and were handed a heavy 4-2 defeat. Saprissa then held Pachuca to a 0-0 draw at home in the quarterfinals before falling to the elevation in Mexico to lose 4-0. In 2015 Santos Laguna lost at the stadium.
Club América in the meantime have positive memories from playing in San José. The Mexican joined Mexican record champion—them and Chivas each hold 12 titles—faced Saprissa in the quarterfinals of the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League campaign. Saprissa was brushed aside with a 5-0 aggregate victory clearing the way to the semifinal where América eliminated Herediano and then Montreal Impact in the final to win the competition.
Club América would defend the title the following season and now holds the record with the most continental titles won in the CONCACAF region. Now coached by Miguel Herrera the eighth title is in on the radar and Saprissa are just considered a stepping stone. The head coach took over the side last summer after a miserable campaign and now aims to bring back another league title to Mexico City.
Eliminated in the semifinals of the Apertura Liguilla América looked once again improved during the Clausura stage. The club is currently first in the standings, but like most top clubs in Liga MX América have been struggling with inconsistency, which was highlighted by the club’s 1-1 draw with bottom feeders Veracruz on Sunday night.
That game, in particular, highlighted that there is still work to do for Herrera if he wants to go for glory this season. Saprissa, on the other hand, are currently third in the standings with one game less and two points behind league leaders Herediano. Consistent results under interims coach Vladimir Quesada show that the Costa Ricans could very well hurt a Club América side that is still a bit of a project at times under Herrera.
Deportivo Saprissa vs América – Player to look out for:
Christian Bolaños #7 – Deportivo Saprissa
Christian Bolaños is back in Costa Rica after playing two seasons in Major League Soccer with the Vancouver Whitecaps. The 33-year-old winger is a veteran, who on top of playing for the Whitecaps has also turned out in 141 games with FC Copenhagen in Denmark where he took part in the UEFA Europa League and Champions League. His experience will be key when it comes to getting any positive result against Club América.
Diego Lainez #34 – Club América
América head coach Miguel Herrera might use the Champions League to give 17-year-old Diego Lainez some much needed playing time. The young star was already heralded as the Mexican Christian Pulisic, but under Herrera, his development has stalled somewhat leading to suggestions that Lainez might leave the club for Europe as soon as he turns 18. América, however, know that they have a star in the making and that he simply needs playing time to mature, hence starting him in the CONCACAF Champions League would make sense.
Deportivo Saprissa vs América – Match Stats
- The last time the two clubs met in this competition Club América was in 2015. América eliminated Saprissa and went on to win the title.
- Deportivo Saprissa eliminated Monterrey and Pumas from winning the title in 2005.
- That season the club also went on to finish third in the FIFA Club World Cup, which was the best position ever achieved by the side from CONCACAF until Pachuca managed to equal that record by finishing third in 2017.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Deportivo Saprissa vs América – 2-2
Deportivo Saprissa vs América – Possible Lineups
Marchesin – Ibargüen, Aguilera, Valdez, Aguilar – Corona, Guido Rodríguez, Uribe – Lainez, Menez, Quintero
Coach: Miguel Herrera
Cruz – Hernandez, Salinas, Mora, Smith – Angulo, Hadden, Bolaños – Colindres, Rodriguez, Ramírez
Coach: Vladimir Quesada
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and social media editor at Bundesliga.com. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth. Or contact him via email: [email protected]