A field covered by artificial turf, Deportivo Saprissa playing at home, and a more offensively bent Kansas City Wizards club will make for an intriguing second leg in the quarterfinal CONCACAF Champions' Cup series between the two teams, set for Thursday night in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Minutes after the first-leg scoreless draw at Arrowhead Stadium last Wednesday, Wizards head coach Bob Gansler made it clear what his squad would spend an increasing amount of time on during the next week.
"Offensively there just wasn't enough vim and vigor and then explosion," he said.
After some days of training, assistant coach Brian Bliss confirmed the offensive increase intended to rev up a club that is still searching for an identity, having still not begun the MLS season.
"We've put a little more emphasis on the offensive end of things. A little bit of rust showed in Wednesday's game in the final pass, the final third of the field. The chance (Josh Wolff) gets, the early chance, the breakaway and doesn't put it away, just things like that," Bliss said. "If we can shake the rust off and hit one or two of those opportunities we get, that's what we're working for -- and pray for a shutout again."
Though the offense sputtered in the first match, the defense repeatedly shut the door on Saprissa's attack, and then when they got through, goalkeeper Bo Oshoniyi was there to make two exceptional saves. Bliss and Gansler were surprised by their opponent's approach Wednesday compared to what they had previously seen via video tape.
"We didn't expect them to play as defensive. There were a couple of guys in their lineup over the two games that we saw, we thought were integral parts of their team. And when they came here, they weren't even here," Bliss said. "One guy [defender Andres Nunez] didn't even travel and the other guy [forward Gerald Drummond] sat on the bench. [At home] they played with a hurried, hectic type pace at home and it was two, arguably three up front. When they came to play us, it was basically [Ronald] Gomez up there with a couple guys in midfield underneath him."
But in the return leg at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa, the Wizards braintrust expects to see what they originally expected.
"The onus will be on them, with their home crowd, to come out and play that typical style that we've seen from them in the past at their home venue. I think we're going to see more guys committed to offense for Saprissa. I think you'll see more of an up-tempo game from them," Bliss said.
Saprissa comes into the match after a 1-1 draw on the road against Brujas on Sunday in the Costa Rican Primera Division. Alonso Solis equalized for Saprissa just before the halftime break, and they held on after being reduced to nine men (Brujas had a player sent off as well), the Morados still tied for the second-best overall record in the championship.
Saprissa boss Hernan Medford made three changes to the team that played in Kansas City, as Try Bennett, José Luis López and Gerald Drummond came into the side for José Pablo Fonseca, Wilson Muñoz and Saúl Phillips.
Exactly how the Wizards will raise their own attacking pressure and deal with Saprissa's increased urgency is unclear said center midfielder Diego Gutierrez -- who was repeatedly roughed up in the first meeting.
"We haven't made a decision on that yet. We've been tinkering with a couple options that we have, but I would think coach Gansler is set on the specific lineup," said Gutierrez. "For the most part, I would gamble that we go with nine, if not 10 guys that you saw on Wednesday night."
What is guaranteed to be different are the field conditions. Saprissa's home is surfaced with Fieldturf. The Wizards have plenty of experience playing on artificial turf having spent a large amount time indoors at the Arrowhead indoor facility.
But what the Wizards would like to experience is a victory Thursday night that would send them into the semifinal round of the Champions' Cup to face either CF Monterrey of Mexico or CSD Municipal of Guatemala beginning April 6. To do so they will have to be more aggressive offensively in the face of an intense opponent supported by a rabid crowd.
"I think the surface is going to benefit us a little bit. The field is a little bigger down in Saprissa. Even with the turf, the ball is going to bounce better for us than it did on the frozen turf at Arrowhead," Gutierrez said. "I think we'll have a good chance to win this game. That's what we're preparing to do. We're not going to go down and try and work a tie and go to overtime and penalty kicks. I think that's foolish."
If the game is tied at the end of 90 minutes, 30 additional minutes of extra time will be played. If the game is still tied after that period, the series will be decided on penalty kicks.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.