Match previews

Match preview: Deportivo Saprissa vs Philadelphia Union

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Who: Philadelphia Union (Major League Soccer) vs. Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica Liga FPD)

What: 2021 Concacaf Champions League.  

Where: Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Ayma, San Juan, Costa Rica

When: Wednesday, April 7 at 6:00 p.m. Eastern

Watch: FS1

Whistle: Referee: Ismael Cornejo. Assistant Referees: David Moranl, Geovany Garcia Lima. 4th Official: Ivan Arcides Barton Cisneros

A nice side benefit of the Union winning last year’s Supporters’ Shield is extra soccer – and not just any soccer, but meaningful, international soccer. 

By virtue of their first trophy, the Union qualified for the 2021 Concacaf Champions League, so today they travel to San Juan, Costa Rica to play the first of two legs in the Round of 16 against the Central American powerhouse club, Deportivo Saprissa.  The second leg will be played at Subaru Park on Wednesday, April 14.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) hosts this annual Champions League tournament.  16 teams make up the opening field competing in knockout rounds consisting of a home and an away game with the aggregate winner advancing to the next round. The final round is a single leg match.   The winner in this round will play either Atlanta United or L.D. Alajuelense (also from Costa Rica) and the winner of the overall tournament goes on to the FIFA Club World Cup.  (For more on the tournament, check out Jim O’Leary’s detailed primer.)

Scouting Report: Deportivo Saprissa

Deportivo Saprissa, founded in 1935, have been a dominant club in Costa Rican soccer. Often referred to as the Manchester United of Costa Rica, they have won 35 Costa Rican Primera Division and three Concacaf titles (in ten appearances), their last coming in 2005. Their stadium known as La Cueva del Monstruo (The Monster’s Lair) is world renowned for its inhospitable spirit (though due to Covid, the stadium will be empty of fans for this match).

It initially appeared that the Union got a tough draw in Saprissa but the Morados Monstruo have been on a bad run of form of late with no wins in their last seven matches.  They fired their manager back in February and are now making a go of it with interim manager, Roy Myers. While Saprissa has not been playing particularly well, they will have the advantage of being in mid-year form having played 16 matches already.

Suspended:  None

Scouting report: Union

The Union may not be in mid-season form but at least they’re healthy, right?  Well not exactly.  They are depleted up top so don’t expect to see Sergio Santos or Cory Burke suit up.  Kasper Przybylko has been in training so he may see the pitch, perhaps alongside Paxton Aaronson. The rest of the starting eleven are expected to be available as Jameiro Montero and Olivier Mbaizo are both back from their national team duty.

Tactically there is an interesting choice for Coach Curtin.  The 4-4-2 diamond is the team’s formation of choice, but with all of the injuries at striker and playing in a foreign land, might it make sense to sit back in a 4-2-3-1 and go for a tie in the first leg and for the win at home in the second? 

They haven’t have the advantage of any real competition under their belt but did looked sharp in their final preseason match with a nice 2-0 win.  Anthony Fontana will be needed to both continue his scoring ways and replace Brendan Aaronson as a creator.  The returning defenders and midfielders have had enough time together on the pitch so they should gel well.

Injury Report:  Not official but Sergio Santos and Corey Burke are out

Suspension Report:  None

Key Matchup:  Union Defense vs Saprissa Attackers

Regardless of which tactics the Union go with, it is imperative that they keep Saprissa off the scoreboard.  Saprissa will be attacking hard to run up a lead in this leg so the back line of Glesnes and Elliott will have to be sharp.

Player to Watch: Anthony Fontana

There were a lot of grumblings that the Union did not go out and get a DP number 10. In his first game as “The Guy,” Fontana will need to score and create and make us all realize that the number 10 was here all along.

Prediction:  Philadelphia 2-1 Saprissa

First goal by Przybylko, second by Fontana.  MLS too much to handle.


Philadelphia Union:    +272

Deportivo Saprissa:   -112

Draw:   +285


  1. I like your optimism.

    • Andrew Speizman says:

      After watching Atlanta United handle Alajuelense last night – down a man – my perception of Costa Rican soccer dropped by quite a lot.

  2. The gamblers say Saprissa. Must be hard to handicap a game like this. Add Covid conditions and who knows? Hope I get a chance to tune in tonight. Been looking forward to the Union playing a genuine international match. Pretty terrific.

  3. Tim Jones says:

    Nothing to do with Saprissa, there are now announced start times for the two away games against New York Red Bulls under full schedule, schedule, on the club’s website.

  4. Alicat215 says:

    And it begins!

  5. T.Coolguy says:

    That was a game. The Union definitely looked in preseason form, and the press really wasn’t there tonight, so I think the team really did a good job coming out of the leg with a 1-0 lead. In an ideal world I would have liked to see the Union create more through the middle, but its early and there are injuries in attack. A healthy Santos might have made a lot of difference tonight.

    Feeling good about the return leg and there were some positive signs for the season as well.

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