15 March, 2011

Real Salt Lake vs Saprissa

Tonight, the eyes of the English speaking fans of MLS will be watching the MLS season opener on ESPN, at 9:30 Eastern/6:30 Pacific. The Los Angeles Galaxy travel to Qwest Field to take on the Seattle Sounders, in what will be a matchup of two of the best three teams in the West. The third, Real Salt Lake, will be hosting first-place Saprissa of Costa Rica in their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal first leg. The game is televised in Spanish on Galavision, at the same time as the MLS opener, 10:00 Eastern/7:00 Pacific. I'll be watching Real Salt Lake host Saprissa.

Saprissa finished second in their CCL group to Monterrey of Mexico and then swept Olimpia of Honduras in the quarterfinals with wins both home and away. Real Salt Lake were the first MLS team to ever win their CCL group, and then defeated the Columbus Crew 4-1 at home after a 0-0 tie in Columbus. Tonight's game will be at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, so RSL appear to be the favorites.

Interestingly, RSL's best player of late has been Costa Rican forward Alvaro Saborio, who has been red hot in CCL play. Alvaro Saborio came up with Saprissa and played for them from 2001-2006, at the age of 18 through 23, before moving to FC Sion of Switzerland from 2006-2010 and then Real Salt Lake last year. With Saprissa in 2003-04, Saborio was the Costa Rican league's leading goal scorer, and has 21 goals in 62 caps for the Costa Rica National Team. Will he aggressively attack his former team or will he have a soft spot for the Monstruo Morado?

RSL's other best offensive players are midfielder Javier Morales and forward Fabian Espindola, both of Argentina. In contrast, Saprissa's roster is unusual in that every single player on the team is from Costa Rica. There are no foreign players on the team. Saprissa's top players expected to start today are center back Jose Mena, only 22 years old and already with 5 caps on the Costa Rican National Team, midfielder Armando Alonso, with 3 goals in CCL play to match his 3 goals for Costa Rica in 21 caps, forward Jairo Arrieta, tied for the team lead in CCL goals with 3, and 20 year old up-and-coming forward Josue Martinez, a starter for Costa Rica's senior National Team.

Real Salt Lake's top defenders, Nat Borchers and Tony Beltran, will be returning from red card suspensions and should be eager to prove themselves, while defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman is rumored to have missed training due to illness this week. Beckerman should play but might be slowed down a bit, and not by his hair. My guess is that the superior goalkeeping of Nick Rimando will win it for RSL tonight.

The second leg will be played April 5 at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa, also known as the Monster's Cave.


  1. Update: Alvaro Saborio scored against his former team off a cross from Fabian Espindola to give RSL a 1-0 lead in the 9th minute. RSL will need more goals if they are to win aggregate. Now 30 minutes in. Each team has had a goal called back, RSL for offside, Saprissa for a foul. RSL's non-goal was "scored" by offside Colombian center back Jamison Olave, the 2010 MLS defender of the year, off a cross by Espindola, who has been Man of the Match.

  2. Final Update: Fabian Espindola solidified his hold on the Man of the Match award by doubling RSL's lead in the 56th minute. Espindola stole the ball from a Saprissa defender, then started a give-and-go with Jamaican Andy Williams for the goal. Final score: 2-0 Real Salt Lake wins.

  3. RSL's first goal was onsides and if any call should have been made, it should have been high kick for the foot near the RSL forward's face. Either way, good match.


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