In describing the atmosphere that RSL will encounter when it meets Saprissa in the second leg of the Champions League semifinals tonight at Saprissa Stadium, Major League Soccer executive Nelson Rodriguez said that "it's not so much that you're playing against the other team, or the fans. You're playing against the ghosts that always seem to rise up."
But you could say that one of the ghosts now plays for the other team.
RSL's Alvaro Saborio, of course, was a legend for Saprissa, scoring 95 goals over a five-year span before leaving for an international career. He's back to play against his old team for the first time now, with the chance to help eliminate it from the tournament he helped it win six years ago.
Naturally, Saborio has been the center of attention for the Costa Rican media here, which might not normally appeal much to him, considering how little he tends to speak when answering questions from reporters — whether in English or Spanish.
But Saborio has acknowledged his love of his former team and a deep appreciation for all that it had given him early in his career, and his current teammates with RSL say he really has been enjoying his return trip.
"He's had a smile on his face since he's been back," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "We all teased him that he wasn't going to come back" after playing here with the Costa Rican national team last week, "but he said he missed us. So he's ready to go. He was born to score goals, so I think he's really excited he gets to play in front of his family and friends."
Beckerman wasn't quite sure how the home fans will receive Saborio tonight, but hoped that his goal for the national team during the inaugural game at its new national stadium would buy him some goodwill.
Fellow midfielder Will Johnson said Saborio deserves a supportive homecoming.
"He's a legend down here," Johnson said. "Everywhere you got, it's Saborio this and Saborio that, which is awesome. He should be well-received. I think he has earned that down here."
Johnson said it has clearly been for for Saborio to come home, and expects he will feel a lot of emotion when he walks onto the field for the game tonight. "These are his people, this is where he made his career," Johnson said. "He seems to be handling it really, really well."
Though it might seem odd for a player to express such a strong love for an upcoming opponent, goalkeeper Nick Rimando said he and his teammates have no questions about Saborio or his dedication to RSL.
"So far, it's all smiles right now, for him," Rimando said. "All in all, he's in it to win it. He wants to do right for this team and we want to do everything we can" to defeat Saprissa.
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