Real Salt Lake has already made history as the first MLS team to reach the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. Now, with a 2-0 first-leg victory under their belt, they head to the fearsome Estadio Saprissa, aka The Monster’s Cave, to try take the next step tonight (10:00 EST, Fox Soccer Channel).
All they have to do is avoid losing to Costa Rican hosts Deportivo Saprissa by three goals or more. They can even lose by two goals and advance, as long as they score an away goal.
It sounds manageable, but it won’t be easy: Estadio Saprissa has long been a place where the dreams of U.S.-based teams go to die. It’s an extremely intimidating venue, with the stands running right up to the field, and you can bet it will be rocking at full tilt tonight.
RSL coach Jason Kreis and goalkeeper Nick Rimando have both played there with with the U.S. national team. Here’s what they told The Salt Lake Tribune about the experience:
“Rimando recalled having coins thrown at him [during] a World Cup qualifier, and Kreis remembered “rocks being thrown at buses and bags of urine being thrown on the field” while playing there a couple of times with the U.S. national team.”
“Those sorts of things I think have been since cleaned up a little bit,” Kreis said, “so I don’t know if we’ll have to face that. But the crowd is right on top of you, and the stadium presents the feeling of being in a dangerous place.”
Sapriss and its fans are well aware of this element. A section of the stands, in fact, sits right above the visitors’ locker room, and fans see it as their duty to rock up and down to create the impression that the changing-room ceiling will cave in at any moment.
“Outside teams feel the pressure,” Saprissa defender Óscar Duarte told MLS Soccer.com.
“We hope the stadium will explode [with fan support],” Saprissa assistant coach Randall Low said. “The gringo teams, when they’ve been here, the support of the fans weighs on them and it’s a negative for them.”
But RSL midfielder Will Johnson was confident his team will not be affected by the environment: “We have a group of guys who are excited about the challenge instead of intimidated. With our experience and diversity in the squad I think the guys are relishing the opportunity to play in that stadium.”
All they need is a close result to make more MLS history with a berth in the CCL final, a two-leg championship scheduled for April 19 and 26.