Both Eastern Conference foes face a shorthanded Costa Rican foe at home in the second leg of a Round of 16 tie. Despite missing several starters who were unable to travel into the U.S. due to COVID-19-related restrictions, Alajuelense battled Atlanta United to the end in a tight 1-0 loss Tuesday night.
Saprissa face similar challenges, with former MLS defender Kendall Waston another Costa Rican national team player who remains home after competing in Europe in an international friendly last month, and other starters reportedly testing positive for COVID-19.
And while Union coach Jim Curtin said it was “unfair” healthy players won’t be able to compete in the second leg, he knows Saprissa will be putting its best foot forward in the second leg at Subaru Park Wednesday (8 pm ET | FS1, TUDN.com).
“It’s unfortunate. When you’re in this competition, you want to play them at their best,” Curtin said in a virtual press conference Tuesday. “Having said that though it will an opportunity for maybe some of their younger players to get on the field, which is very dangerous because they’ll be willing to, and looking to, impress their coach. It’s a dangerous situation for us.”
“I think whether we’re willing, we’re losing or tied, there’s a pretty darn good bet that he’ll be on the field at the end of the game to get himself going, to gain fitness and because we’re a better team when he’s on the field,” Curtin said. “To get anther striker back is key right now.”
Curtin said Kai Wagner is fully healthy and trained well after the shocking late-game tackle in the first leg that went viral on social media and sparked a melee between the teams.
He also said the Saprissa player responsible for that tackle, Ricardo Blanco, took to social media to apologize to Wagner for the tackle and Curtin warned his team to not retaliate in the second leg at home.
After getting an impressive result at the Monster’s Cave in the opening leg, the Union return to Subaru Park for their first Concacaf Champions League home game with players and fans alike buzzing, with an understanding there still is a job to do.
“The excitement level is very high. Anytime you get to play in an international competition it’s always special, but we know the job’s only half done,” Anthony Fontana said. “We have to go out and put a solid performance in and get by Saprissa, then we can look forward, but all eyes on Saprissa tomorrow.”