The Philadelphia Union will see its domestic season start a bit sooner than normal this Spring after clinching a first-ever spot in club history into the Concacaf Champions League.
Jim Curtin’s side is coming off of a Supporters’ Shield triumph in 2020 and will now embark on a new challenge this April after being paired against Deportivo Saprissa in the CCL Round of 16. The Union received one of the tougher draws on Wednesday night, being paired with the 35-time Costa Rican league title winners.
Despite coming off the best season yet in club history, the Union remain wary of its first competitive opponents of the 2021 season.
“It’s a team that is the Bayern Munich or Manchester United of Costa Rica,” Curtin said. “A big club where the only expectation is to win and to win championships. When you are in this competition and playing in a Champions League setting every team is talented and the opponent has a lot of ways to hurt you.”
The Union are coming off a recent few months which saw Homegrown and U.S. Men’s National Team talents Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie transfer to Europe in the next step of their respective careers. Talented players remain on the roster though such as Kacper Pzrybylko, Alejandro Bedoya, Kai Wagner, and 2020 Goalkeeper of the Year winner Andre Blake.
With the atmospheres at both Subaru Park and Saprissa Stadium set to be a bit lower due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a possibility of no fans permitted in, the Union will hope to use that to their advantage in the two-legged tie.
“[It’s] an intimidating atmosphere to play in but this is the challenge our club wanted as we take the next step as we look to grow our club forward after being Supporters’ Shield Champions,” Curtin said. “I think the experience of playing in a hostile environment against a good team in Saprissa, it will only make us better. Make no mistake about it, we enter this competition like everyone else with the goal of winning it.”
Saprissa is already seven matches into its league schedule in Costa Rica and has 10 more scheduled matches on the radar prior to the first leg at home on April 7th. In addition, the team has some familiar faces to MLS fans, with former league and veteran internationals Kendall Waston, David Guzman, and Christian Bolanos on the roster this season.
Curtin still has yet to work with his squad yet on the upcoming campaign, but hasn’t shied away from scouting his first opponent in just under two months time.
“Having just watched Saprissa play in [Concacaf League] final against Alajuelense, there is the advantage of getting to scout them and see them,” Curtin said. “There is some familiarity because there are very talented former MLS players on their roster such as Kendall Waston, Christian Bolanos and David Guzman.”
The Union are one of four MLS-based teams in this season’s competition, with Toronto FC as a possible fifth, should it win the rescheduled Canadian Championship over Hamilton Forge.