Costa Rica and El Salvador away dates were added to the Portland Timbers' schedule today as the group stage of the 2016-2017 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League campaign was announced.
On Aug. 3, 2016, the Timbers will kick off their SCCL schedule with a Group B match against CD Dragón at Providence Park (7pm PT). This year's competition represents the second time that the Timbers have participated in the group stage of the CCL.
In addition to CD Dragón, whom the Timbers will play again in San Salvador, El Salvador on Sept. 27, the Timbers will also face Costa Rican giants Deportivo Saprissa both home and away on Sept. 14 in Central America and then again on Oct. 19 in Portland.
The winner of Group B will move on to the quarterfinals.
While both teams present unique challenges, Saprissa's home stadium being historically a fortress in CCL play with visiting MLS teams having won only once in the competition. Here's a breakdown of what the Timbers are up against.
Group B Opponents
Saprissa of Costa Rica is among the most decorated and accomplished club teams in North America outside of Mexico, having won the CCL in 1993, 1995, and 2005 and finishing runners-up in 1970, 1973, 2004, and 2008. Saprissa has won the Costa Rican Primera División a league-best 32 times since the 1952-1953 season.
The team plays all of its home matches at the fearsome Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Aymá in San Juan de Tibás, a northern suburb of Costa Rica's capital, San José. The stadium, which seats 23,112 fans and which sports the first FieldTurf surface in Central America, has been the site of numerous MLS and U.S. Men's National Team battles through the years.
In all competitions against MLS teams at home, Saprissa has an 8-1-1 record, suffering its only home loss to an MLS side to Columbus Crew SC in the 2009-2010 CCL. Likewise, when Costa Rica has hosted the U.S. Men's National Team at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Aymá, its record is a perfect 6-0-0, with 15 goals scored and only five conceded. Its inhospitality to visiting teams helped earn the stadium the nickname La Cueva del Monstruo, or “The Monster's Cave.”
Three current Timbers players, however, have played Deportivo Saprissa before. In the 2005 edition of the CCL, Timbers midfielder Jack Jewsbury, then playing for the Kansas City Wizards, earned late minutes in a 2-1 extra time loss at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Aymá. In 2011, current Timbers defender Nat Borchers and midfielder Ned Grabavoy, then of Real Salt Lake, played on the road in a 2-1 loss to Saprissa (RSL won the series 3-2 on aggregate to advance to the 2011 CCL Final).
The current Saprissa roster features two players from Costa Rica's Copa América Centenario roster, goalkeeper Danny Carvajal and defender Francisco Calvo, in addition to Panamanian international Adolfo Machado and former New York Red Bulls defender Roy Miller.
Despite being founded in 1939 in San Miguel, El Salvador, Dragón are relative newcomers on the international scene. Until it won the 2016 Clausura, Dragón had won the Salvadoran Primera División only two other times – in 1951 and 1953.
Dragón plays its matches at intimate Estadio Juan Francisco Barraza, a stadium that it shares with local rival C.D. Águila. The stadium, which seats 10,000 fans, held its first match in November 1959. That time period corresponds with the founding of C.D. Águila and the relative decline of Dragón's fortunes. For their CCL matches, Dragón will be playing at Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador.
Since Dragón was first relegated to Salvadoran Second Division after the 1963-1964 season, it has continually seesawed between the First and Second divisions, most recently earning promotion back to the Primera División after winning the 2013 Clausura.
The team's current roster is almost entirely comprised of Salvadoran players, some of whom, like the team's most famous former player, striker Raúl Díaz Arce, may go on to bigger and better things in future years. This year's CCL might very well be their showcase.