SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica – The Portland Timbers have settled into Costa Rica and are feeling well prepared for their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League game Wednesday night against Deportivo Saprissa (7pm PT, Univision Deportes / CONCACAF Facebook). After arriving Monday, the team trained Tuesday evening at the historic Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Aymá in San José.
“I thought it was good to be under the lights and get a little sense of what it’s going to be like [Wednesday] night,” said head coach Caleb Porter following the session. “It’s a beautiful stadium, a great pitch and it should be a good match.”
Despite playing one game fewer than Saprissa in Group B of the tournament, and two games fewer than C.D. Dragón, the Timbers are only one point behind Saprissa, currently sitting in second place in the group standings. Wednesday’s game presents a key opportunity to take control of the group moving forward. But getting a result in the raucous environment of Saprissa’s home field is a challenging task. Ten MLS teams have come to play at Estadio Saprissa and only one—Columbus Crew SC—has come away with a victory.
Porter feels it makes for a unique prospect.
“You can look at that as a negative or you can look at it as a real challenge and an opportunity to try to do something that not many MLS teams have done,” he said. “We have everything to gain. We win this game, that puts us in a great position to win at Dragón and we’re through. A draw is still a good result as well, and we know if we don’t get the win, we can still get through with two wins. In some ways, it allows us to go for the win.”
Midfielder Diego Chara, a veteran of energetic environments in South America, believes that though the stadium will be loud, the Timbers will be ready for it.
“The fans sing here to give energy to their team but I think when the whistle blows, I’ll forget all that,” said Chara.
Close to 50 Timbers Army supporters are said to be traveling to the game as well so there will be some friendly Green and White in the crowd cheering Portland on.
Sandwiched midweek between the Timbers’ 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake last weekend in MLS play and Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Union at Providence Park, Wednesday’s battle against Saprissa and the desire to increase their chances at advancing are all part of an equal level of importance for the Timbers. For Porter, it’s not CCL over MLS or vice-versa.
“I told [the team] again today that when we look at our league games and our Champions League games, we’re not prioritizing the league over Champions League or the Champions League over the league," he said. "We wouldn’t feel good at the end of the year if we made the playoffs and didn’t get out of Champions League. We wouldn’t feel good if we got out of the Champions League and didn’t make the playoffs. For me, they’re equal.
“We’re going to play to win.”
To do that, midfielder Diego Valeri believes it will all come down to the basics.
“We have to take care of the ball, make them defend, put pressure on the centerbacks and then try to manage the rhythm of the game,” said Valeri. “We think that we can win here, we can beat them and we’ll fight for that.”