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Notes from San Jose: Seeing Saprissa for the first time

I saw Estadio Saprissa for the first time on Monday and what I saw wasn't exactly what I was expecting.

Rather than some cathedral to the game, or imposing structure, what I found was a rundown concrete structure that looked more like a post-nuclear ruin than famous stadium (though the inside of the stadium is in better shape than the exterior). It is what Thunderdome would have been if the characters in the Mad Max movie played soccer instead of fight to the death.

All that said, it is clear as day why this place has been such a tough destination for Costa Rica opponents. The imposing stands on either side of the field shoot up in a steep angle you don't see at many American stadiums, which coupled with the extremely close proximity to the field, gives players the sense that they are surrounded by walls of screaming fans. If not for the 10-foot high fencing surrounding the field, pitch invasions would probably be a regular occurrence.

Will that atmosphere be enough to settle the current edition of the U.S. national team? Considering the experience and high level many current American starters are playing at, you would think not.

That doesn't mean there won't be some initial shock for the Americans when the game begins. Pablo Mastroeni admitted as much about the 2005 visit here, and stated that if the U.S. team can weather that early part of Wednesday's match, we could see a solid performance from the U.S. national team.

What the United States will find on Wednesday is a confident Costa Rican team that has fully embraced its perfect record vs. the United States. Costa Rica head coach Rodrigo Kenton has stated repeatedly that his team gains strength from that history.

If you're wondering about Kenton, he is a successful and well-respected manager who has no interest in saying anything remotely controversial, and often answers questions in vague generalities. Some say Bob Bradley is the same way, but after hearing Kenton interviews for two days I think Kenton has Bradley beaten there.

As for local media coverage, the area newspapers are playing up the history angle, as well as the "Costa Rica and the United States are the two strongest teams in CONCACAF" angle. I suppose they need to play that one up while they can, because 'Los Ticos' could drop to fourth place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal pretty quickly if things go badly during the next few days.

Ricardo Clark joins the U.S. team today, and while he has a good chance of making the 18-man roster, don't expect him to crack the starting XI. I'm sticking by the starting lineups I posted on Monday as the best possibilities. The 4-5-1 formation seems like the easy pick for this match but you have to wonder if it will be wise to sit back and absorb pressure from Costa Rica. That approach worked against Guatemala last summer in Guatemala City, but this Costa Rican team has a MUCH better attacking group than Guatemala. Playing the 4-4-2 with Brian Ching and Jozy Altidore could be the pick for Bradley, who could be tempted to try and put the pressure on the home team.

That's all for now. Feel free to share your thoughts on Wednesday's match, and any of the above observations, in the comments section below.

The weather today in San Jose is sunny and beautiful, though storm clouds never seem too far away.


  1. The Mexico game was a scrappy affair that was decided by a smart Michael Bradley effort after a scramble in the box and an Oswaldo Sanchez error in the last minute of the game after a great shot from Bradley.

    Apart from that, yes the US was able to win the midfield battle against Mexico and mantain some possesion but there was no “clear” dominance over the opponent.

    The US was outplayed by a highly motivated Salvadorean team and was lucky to walk away with a point. So far the easiest game for the US has been the home match against TnT.

    I think the US is the best team in CONCACAF and should always go into any venue with the mentality to win but the distances between teams in our region have shrunk and one of the key assets to the recent dominance of the region by the US, it’s physical attributes, can be countered with a solid possesion game and the will to win, like El Salvador did.

    Gotta keep things in perspective, that’s all I’m saying.

  2. I figure we’ll get 0 points on this roadtrip. Actually I don’t even care if we win this game since its a given we’re up againt the odds.

    I’d love to see Bradley defy his predecessors and start an attack oriented squad. Throw everything at them and try to silence the crowd early. If by halftime this fails.. sub in some D-fence.

    and ride out a 2-0 loss


  3. Bradley is a coward and will play anti-football, 4-5-1. Until we develop a better mentality and style, going for the draw down there is all we can hope for.

  4. The most insightful remark in response to the naivete on this and other sites is by csv:

    ” I am and avid U.S. supporter, but until we start having the mentality that we can and should go to away venues in CONCACAF (Azteca included) and win, then I will always be a bit skeptical of our chances against much better opponents.”

    So you think Argentina doesn’t have a chance against better opponents after losing 6 to 1 at Bolivia?

  5. dantheblue:

    That was no anomaly; as someone posted earlier, Argentina certainly has not dominated Bolivia at La Paz, and they actually have a all-time _losing_ record playing away against Bolivia (couning all games: Mind you, this is Argentina, which has always been one of the top 5 best national teams in the world since forever (and often are one of the top 2). . . and they struggle to beat a minnow like Bolivia on their home turf. Now, the US is no where near the level of Argentina, and Saprissa for the Ticos is probably almost as much of an advantage for them as La Paz is for the Bolivians; sure, there isn’t much altitude to deal with, but it’s not easy to win or tie at a place where the referee has to fear about escaping the country alive if he makes a call against the home team.

    I think the problem is that most posters here tend to be more American fans than fans of the international game, and in no American sport is home field advantage such a huge difference-maker as it often is in international soccer.


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