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Estadio Saprissa: CONCACAF Dungeon


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.

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  1. links of london

    February 21, 2010 at 10:45 pm


  2. Cris

    June 21, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Its racist when you asume things just because of the origin place of someone, and don’t even know what you are talking about, can’t say every gringo is a racist, can’t expect that someone from California is gonna think extactly the same as someone from Texas, Central America has its diferences and Costa Rica is not El Salvador, and about the turf, no country in the world shoud be better prepared to play at astro than the US, sometimes is better to have turf than a horrible field as the one we had beefore.
    Hope next game many of you can make it here, and see in your own eyes what we really are like, and enjoy a diferent expierence, that’s the number one reason why soccer is the bigest sport in the world, because is inclusive you don’t need $3000 to have a great seat in a great game.

  3. justin case

    June 13, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    not all Americans are white especially football(soccer) fans so they are not necessarily racist. Now I will say this when Jamaica went over 10 yrs without loosing a match in the office Costa Ricans complained bout the pitch and the crowd, Americans complained Mexicans complained Hondurans complained. when Mexico Canada and Honduras had their butts handed to them in a sling this world cup campaign they all complained. the thing is in concacaf we don’t travel well as football teams and as home teams we can beat the best in the world. astro turfs are wrong for international games and should be banned. can imagine if Jamaica was in the final phase of qualifiers I think it would have been a much better series.

  4. Joey Clams

    June 11, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Carlos, I stand by what I say.

    Football tactician, what are you on about? The problem is not so much “racism” or your presumptions of the “superiority” of others, but rather your own inferiority complex. The fact of the matter is that Anglo-Protestant America is highly civilized and enlightened. And I’m Irish-Catholic. If you deny that, then it’s hard to take you seriously.

  5. Football tactician

    June 11, 2009 at 1:53 am

    You’re damn right about USA people feeling superior. And these CONCACAF qualifiers bring out their true feelings. It’s ridiculous to think they will be civil about things. Even if they’re nice to you to your face, the majority of them will have that feeling of supremacy inside them, even if it’s unsubstantiated. Kartik should know what I’m talking about, since Indians deal with worse racism than Latin Americans.

    It will continue on and on. Just support your people and fight hard to make Latin America rise. Forget the non-Hispanic whites. Unless you can use them to your advantage.

  6. Carlos

    June 10, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    Wisdom words Donjuego… about you Joey, don’t be ignorant! How can you say that “rat infested” it isn’t racism, COMMON! USA people feel superior, and thats why Middle Orient and terrorism people do things against your country! because almost all USA people feel superior… I’m from Costa Rica, who is one of the best nations in Latin America (In Social-economical & politic topics) and that isn’t a reason for me to feel superior than another brother from central america, like Belice or something like that, we all are people, same as you… The only thing the world have to do is be respectful about religions, colors, cultures, etc. and we’ll live in a better world…
    P.D: Sorry about my english, i’m not a “master” in that language

  7. adam

    June 10, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    These ratings are disturbing. I don’t know what more to say. MLS has certainly been hurt by the availability of Euro football on the tube and the ratings compared to 1999 are disturbing. MLS will probably remain a niche product which is alright with me but we know is not okay with Don Garber.

  8. Joey Clams

    June 10, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Easy with the charges of racism, fellas. Contempt is not racism. It may be misinformed and even mean-spirited. But it’s not racist. Of course, anything that’s not a ringing endorsement is racist to Latin Americans. They’re not known for their acceptance of critical observation.

  9. Donjuego

    June 9, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    I’m a yank who has been a visiting supporter in Estadio Saprissa. I think my wife and I were the only visiting supporters in the entire facility.

    Your description is just uniformed and stupid. The fans are super nice. They are wonderful nice people. They are also very passionate and their teams feed off of that. Nothing vile or wrong about it.

    No coins thrown. No bags of anything. Nothing but passionate fans of football. I would go back anytime.

    I’ve also been a visiting fan in Estadio Azteca. Ticos are certainly more engaged and more passionate. Saprissa is louder because the fans are louder.

    Yes — it is intimadating. But it really is the way it should be. As far as condition of the facilities? Come on folks: It is Central America. Even Costa Rica with the best economy in the region is not going to construct and maintain a stadium to US standards. It is part of the magic of world cup qualifying that you go face teams in their country and their culture.

    Estadio Saprissa is a wonderful monument to a proud tradition of Costa Rican futbol. I look forward to the day I am a visiting supporter there and leave victorious. We Americans need to grow some huevos, suck it up, and bring our game to Saprissa and compete.

  10. Footballer

    June 9, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    You’re right that many US fans said horrible racist remarks about Saprissa and the people there. They said things like “They illegally come here to be gardeners, yet they can’t maintain a grass pitch at one of their stadiums?” or “the turf at Saprissa looked like a garage sale rug”. Or “What else do you expect from all those Joses and Julios down there? Let’s just be thankful they at least have electricity so we can play at night.”

  11. Carlos

    June 9, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    It’s a shame hearing US people… They talk about “Saprissa is a rat infested, urinated hell hole”, but they don’t realize that they are acting in the same way, with racism… In Costa Rica we love soccer, it’s a passion! Ricardo Saprissa Ayma Stadium shows that, shows the vibe of a country! THE PASSION! and USA always are intimidated about that, it’s a hell inside! There’s a rumor that Altidoore told to Donovan: “Hey Donovan, how does it feels play in Saprissa Stadium..? And Donovan response: Wednesday…. The Wednesday you’ll feel hell, a hell that you can’t get out…” I see that in a papernews, i don’t remember exactly the name, but sincerely, come to Saprissa always will be a heavy-duty match, not because the stupids excuses about turf, it’s heavy-duty because our players, costa rican players feel the passion! and costa rican fans too… Saprissa is magical, the people united… VAMOS SELE! USA don’t be racist….

  12. Esteban

    June 4, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    haha My friend

    Once again you are losers, 3-1, I don’t want to speak with you, Saprissa is what you say, but unfortunately for you US was crushed yesterday, We played a extremely good game and I thought US did not come down to Costa Rica cause I could not see any good players from US.


  13. Sofia

    June 4, 2009 at 12:05 pm


    I want to hear what you all have to say about the saprissa stadium after last night’s game….. Estadio Saprissa is not a myth BUT A REALITY!!!
    The USA team is terrified of the Estadio Saprissa and the fans. I dont know why it is so hard for you admit ir already!

  14. Football midfielder

    May 31, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Good piece, except for the error that Ed pointed out.

    I’m from the old-school point of view that you have to fight fire with fire. In other words, if their supporters use vile, underhanded tactics, then you have to go out there with your people and fight back, hard and merciless. These fans shouldn’t get away with their behaviour. I wonder how Sam’s Army will respond to the urine and blood bags, or razor sharp coins.

    Ironic how 2 towns which share the same name… one is home of the Earthquakes, and any team can go in there and defeat them. And the other is mentioned in this article… quite the opposite.

    And yes, there should be NO artificial turf in WCQualifiers. Very bush league.

  15. Ed

    May 31, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Um Mexico, a CONCACAF nation, beat Costa Rica at Saprisaa in ’05 (this decade). Their team bus was attacked by an angry mob shortly after the game. I’m almost 100% sure the US will come out with a victory however it wont be easy. As someone mentioned, bags of urine seems to be common throughout Central America. Nevertheless good luck.

  16. kyle

    May 30, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    The US needs to attack right from the start. Nothing quiets down a crowd like scoring an early goal.

  17. eplnfl

    May 30, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Just a feeling on this team but is the American team now able to mentally prepare better than those in the past. Given that many, some say too many, of our team come from European leagues where hostile away games are the rule and not the exception do we have a group that is better able to handle things.

    The turf is a problem for a speed team like the US and thats why I say we will come away with a hard earned point from this road battle.

  18. TTB

    May 30, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    I’m so sick of hearing Saprissa compared to Azteca.

    I hate the Mexican team but Azteca is a shrine of futbol.

    Saprissa is a rat infested, urinated hell hole.

    Let’s take care of business and end this myth of Saprissa being some sort of tough venue.

  19. Jeffery

    May 30, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    This place is more myth than reality.

    Once we win there the myth will be shattered. Everything changes Wednesday.

  20. AVR

    May 30, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Tat place is a hell hole. I’ve been to Azteca and Saprissa and while the Mexican fans are no day at the beach they are certainly more schooled in the ways of soccer and accommodating visiting fans than the Costa Ricans.

    Saprissa is a horrible place. And the Ticos fans tend to be hooligans in the ultra tradition.

    A win there takes more than soccer skill: it takes a psychological ability to cope in an awful situation from the time you land to the time we depart the country. San Jose is not cosmopolitan like Mexico City and the papers publish the hotel #s and the loud speakers all the stuff you mention.

    Right now we are miles better than them on the pitch which in reality means very little.

  21. GJ

    May 30, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    once we get a win in Costa Rica there will not be much talk of how hard its to win down there. And I hope that win is coming soon.

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