Sporting KC head back to CONCACAF Champions League play tomorrow when they welcome Deportivo Saprissa to Kansas City for the first time since 2005. The Costa Rican side leads Group 2 with four points, drawing with Real Esteli 1-1 on the road and winning 3-0 at home. KC currently sits in third place in the group, having picked up the one point in their 1-1 draw with Esteli. These two teams last met in the 2005 CONCACAF Champions Cup, in a home and away series. The then Wizards tied Saprissa 0-0 at Arrowhead in front of 1,200 people. They then went to Costa Rica and took a 1-0 lead in the second half thanks to a goal by Jose Burciaga. Saprissa scored in second half stoppage time to tie it. The CCC did not have the away goals rule set at the time. The game wen to extra time where Saprissa found a winner to take the series 2-1.
Saprissa is off to a good start in their league this season, undefeated at this point with 3 wins and a draw. They haven't played a game though since August 31st because of the Copa Centroamericana taking place earlier this month. Saprissa had six players from their team participate in the tournament, four from Costa Rica, GK Kevin Briceño, midfielders Juan Gabriel Bustos and Manfred Russell, and forward David Ramirez, one from Guatemala, defender Rafael Morales, and one from Panama, defender Adolfo Machado. Those five of those six started Saprissa's last Champions League game against Esteli, Briceño the only exception. All six have also made the trip to KC for the game. While Saprissa has lost two regulars this past window, Kendall Waston to Vancouver and Yeltsin Tejeda to Evian in France, they're still a strong side that has shown to be one of the best youth pipelines in Central America.
Kansas City finally broke their four game losing streak, last Friday night, taking down Chivas USA 4-0 on the road. The win was desperately needed headed into this critical stretch for their season. In 2013, KC got through the CCL group stage with their away form, after the draw in Nicaragua, KC will now need their home form. With this weekend off from MLS action, KC should be able to put out a strong side against Saprissa. They will have to have an eye towards Tuesday when KC will be back on the field at home vs Esteli and Friday at home against New England, but this game should allow a team of primarily starters to be on the field for KC. This includes goalkeeper Eric Kronberg who looks set to make his return from a broken hand this week.
Juliao - Collin - Besler - Sinovic
Olum - Nagamura
Saad - Dwyer - Zusi
Number to Remember - 1 - That's how many wins Kansas City has at home in international play since 2002. Between KC's 2-1 win over Santos Laguna in 2001 and their 1-0 win over Cruz Azul earlier this year, KC went 0-1-4 in international play. Overall, KC is 3-3-5 at home in international competitions.
Key Match Up - KC defense vs Ariel Rodriguez - The 24 year old forward has scored all four of Saprissa's goals in the tournament so far. He's having a very good tournament so far and KC will need to be mindful of his presence on the field.
PREDICTION - This really is a game that KC has to win if they want to advance from the group. A draw or a loss here puts pressure not only on the return leg in Costa Rica in October, but pressure to blow out Esteli on Tuesday. Costa Rica is three points ahead and is up on goal difference. And with the first three tiebreakers all being related to head to head match ups, it makes tomorrow's game even bigger. A draw, or worse a loss and KC is in trouble. But with the first team likely to be the ones on the field Sporting has the offensive and defensive talent to take out the Costa Ricans. Capitalizing on the confidence from Friday is key.
SKC - 2 (Dwyer, Zusi)
Saprissa - 1 (David Rodriguez)