Champions League: RSL ventures into Costa Rica's rowdy 'Monster Cave'
San Jose, Costa Rica • The small conference room beneath the ramshackle stadium was packed with reporters and photographers, all waiting to hear what Real Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio had to say about returning home to try to eliminate from the CONCACAF Champions League tournament the beloved team for which he once played.
When the question finally came, the striker simply smiled.
"I hope they receive me well," he said.
Saborio might have gained some personal leniency on that account, after scoring for Costa Rica last week in the inaugural game at its new national stadium.
But RSL is hardly expecting a warm welcome overall at one of the region's most notoriously intimidating venues when it meets Deportivo Saprissa in the second leg of the Champions League semifinals at old Saprissa Stadium nicknamed the "Monster's Cave" on Tuesday night.
In fact, players and coaches are all preparing to cope with a ravenous crowd whose jumping and shouting can make it impossible for players to even hear each other speak in the spartan locker room underneath the stands that looks almost like an oversized prison cell, all concrete and cinder blocks and plain white tile.
"It gets loud, for sure," goalkeeper Nick Rimando said.
Several RSL players besides Rimando have played at the stadium in the past, including midfielder Andy Williams, who played one of his first World Cup qualifying games with Jamaica against Costa Rica there. He remembers coming out of the locker room for the game and walking into a noise so loud that it felt as if the stadium "was about to fall down."
Yet RSL hopes it can keep Saprissa under control in the early stages, to help take the crowd out of the game and preserve the 2-0 lead it gained by winning the first leg of the two-game, combined-goals series at home last month.
All RSL must do in the second leg is not lose by three goals or more.
Even a two-goal loss would get the team through to the championship round of the tournament against either Cruz Azul or Monterrey of Mexico, so long as it scores and that's something coach Jason Kreis and his players have promised to try to do.
"We don't want to get into a mindset of coming here to defend for 90 minutes," Kreis said at the news conference with Saborio. "We're not a team that's typically comfortable doing that, and I'm not a coach that's typically comfortable watching my team play that way."
The Purple Monster of Saprissa have eliminated MLS teams from the tournament four times, though not since it was reformatted from the Champions Cup in 2008. It also won the tournament three times, the last with Saborio leading the way in 2005.
Coach Juan Manuel Alvarez has said Saprissa cannot allow RSL to score in the second leg, but surely he knows all about Saborio, who scored 95 goals in five years for Saprissa and has struck eight times for RSL in Champions League play, including once in the first leg against his old club.
Now, he comes back to where it all began for him.
"It's going to be unforgettable," he said in that little conference room. "I love this team. It gave me a lot, and I'm thankful for what the fans gave me, over many years. But I'm here with Salt Lake, and I have to try to do my best for Salt Lake."
The Champions League situation
• RSL would advance with a win, a draw, a one-goal loss or a two-goal loss in which it scores.
• Saprissa would advance with a win by three goals or more.
• The teams would play overtime and take penalty kicks, if necessary, if Saprissa wins 2-0.
Real Salt Lake at Deportive Saprissa
P At Saprissa Stadium, San Jose, Costa Rica
Kickoff • 8 p.m. MDT
TV • Fox Soccer Channel
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 106.1 FM
Records • RSL 6-2-1, Saprissa 5-3-1
All-Time series • Tied, 1-1-0
Last meeting • RSL 2, Saprissa 0 (March 15, 2011)
About RSL • Forward Alvaro Saborio has scored eight times in Champions League play, after having scored 95 goals in five years with Saprissa before taking his career overseas. â¦ The team had last weekend off from Major League Soccer play to prepare for the game, and does not have any injury concerns or suspensions. â¦ Goalkeeper Nick Rimando was named the MLS Player of the Month for March. â¦ It has lost only three of its past 37 games in Major League Soccer and Champions League play, going 22-3-12 over the span. Two of the losses came at FC Dallas, with the other to Cruz Azul in a rainstorm in Mexico.
About Saprissa • It won the previous incarnation of the Champions League called the Champions Cup three times, in addition to winning five Central American titles between 1972 and 2003. â¦ Midfielder Armando Alonso leads the team with three goals in Champions League play. â¦ It played a scoreless draw with Cartagines in league play Saturday, but rested most of its starters. â¦ It's 7-3-5 all-time against Major League Soccer teams, and has eliminated them from the tournament four times. â¦ Defender Jose Mena and midfielders Douglas Sequeira and Ricardo Blanco are suspended for caution accumulation.