Estadio Saprissa has been an unwelcome sight for many a CONCACAF visitor through the years. On the club level it has become nearly impossible for Mexican or American sides to go down to San Jose and expect a result.
But on the international level it is even more of home advantage as no CONCACAF nation has won a game at Saprissa this decade. The US last got a point on Costa Rican soil in 1985, drawing 1-1 at Alajuenlense before the famous and tragic 1-0 loss in Torrance, CA that eliminated the US from World Cup 1986 consideration.
Estadio Saprissa is the key reason why Costa Rica won the Hexagonal prior to the 2002 World Cup by a wide margin and then saw Costa Rica with a weaker team qualify for the 2006 World Cup. The Ticos are even weaker in the 2010 cycle, and we will find out if Saprissa will make all the difference in the next few months.
In 2004, FIFA allowed the Costa Rican Federation and CD Saprissa to put an artificial pitch into Saprissa Stadium. Jorge Vegara, who owns Saprissa as well as Chivas USA and CD Guadalajara bought the turf and had it installed at a cost of around $ 650,000.
The turf has made Saprissa more difficult for opposing clubs. I am of the personal opinion that turf should not be allowed in any international match. MLS and USL have to work on phasing out turf (MLS is working to do just this while USL is quite the opposite, disturbingly promoting the use of turf) for the American game to reach its potential.
Footballers do not like playing on turf. Injuries are more common, ache and pains the next morning more nagging and worrisome. Even worse is the unnatural ball bounces and ball flight caused by the turf.
The turf will undoubtedly be an issue for the United States, and Bob Bradley knows it. Yesterday at a press conference in Miami, Bradley said, “Players will tell you the game isn’t the same on artificial turf.” He went on to correctly state “we feel the game is best on a good natural surface.”
But Costa Rica’s federation is of the opinion that turf gives them an advantage: no question exists that it does. Mexico and the United States both have had reason troubles at Saprissa because of the turf. Mexican clubs and US clubs have had similarly unpleasant experiences.
FIFA allows an extra day of training and preparation for visiting teams traveling to an artificial pitch. Hence, the US team will leave Miami a day early for San Jose and try to acclimate themselves with the surroundings.
These surroundings include poor lighting, antiquated dressing rooms and bags of urine thrown on the pitch at opposing players. Mexican and American teams have also regularly been subject to harassment locally including 4 am phone calls to the hotel rooms and blaring loud speakers near the team hotel.
Saprissa Stadium is about as unfriendly a place to visit in world football. Costa Rican fans also tend to be more passionate, bordering on violent in the stands than their Mexican counterparts. Don’t let media hype fool you: Estadio Azteca is a shrine of football, and a tough venue, with a certain touch of class. Saprissa is just a nasty place to be a visiting team or visiting fan.
This makes Saprissa the most difficult venue in CONCACAF and among the most difficult in the world. But the United States is prepared for the visit to the dungeon and have every chance of gaining a result on Wednesday night.