Saprissa vs. Portland Timbers - September 14, 2016 - CCL ExLink Image
Deportivo Saprissa / USA Today Sports

Deportivo Saprissa vs. Portland Timbers | 2016-17 CCL Match Preview

DEPORTIVO SAPRISSA vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS
ESTADIO RICARDO SAPRISSA ÁYMA,  San José, Costa Rica
Sept. 14, 2016 (CONCACAF Champions League)
10 pm ET (UDN, facebook.com)

The Portland Timbers face their first road test of the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday, when they travel to Costa Rica to take on group leader – and Central American powerhouse – Deportivo Saprissa.

The Timbers are 1-0-0 in CCL play, while Saprissa come in with four points after two matches. Saprissa boast one of the more robust home field advantages on the continent, and Portland will have their work cut out for them to earn a result in San Jose.

A loss on Tuesday would put the Timbers four points off the Group B pace, but with a home game against Saprissa and a trip to face El Salvador’s Dragón to follow, the Timbers would still be able to claim the group by winning out. A win for Portland would vault them to first position in the group and give them the inside track to a top seed in the quarterfinals.

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Into the Monster’s Cave

Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Ayma, known colloquially as the “Monster’s Cave,” is one of the toughest places to play in all of CONCACAF. Timbers midfielder Ned Grabavoy knows all about the famed stadium, having played there in one of MLS’ best-ever nights in the CCL.

Grabavoy was with Real Salt Lake for their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal at Saprissa in 2011. RSL held a 2-0 lead heading into the away leg and lost 2-1 in Costa Rica but advanced to the final by winning the two-legged series 3-2 on aggregate.

“It’s an interesting little drive and hike up a hill where the fans are ready before the game,” Grabavoy told Timbers.com of the ride to the stadium. “Fans are ready around the stadium to let you know that it’s going to be a difficult night. I think from that moment we knew how difficult of a task it was going to be, but we embraced it a little bit.

“You got the locker rooms underneath the stands and it’s old concrete,” he continued. “Sometimes it feels like the place is going to fall down on you. All those things add into it a little bit: the stadium noise, the atmosphere, the tiny locker rooms, the fans right on top you letting you hear it before [the game] and at halftime.”  

Timbers look for road reversal

Just in case a trip to Costa Rica wasn’t tough enough, the Timbers have been dreadful on the road this year. Portland are winless on the road in MLS play in 2016, posting an 0-8-6 record away from Providence Park.

The Timbers did go 1-1-0 on the road in their previous CCL run, losing 3-1 at Honduran club Olimpia and winning 4-1 at lowly Guyanese club Alpha United – who finished the CCL group stage 0-4-0 with a -16 goal differential – in the 2014-15 tournament.

Porter faces roster decisions

Timbers head coach Caleb Porter faces some tough roster choices for Wednesday’s match, which comes four days after Portland beat Real Salt Lake last weekend and three days before their crucial home test against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday (6 pm ET, MLS LIVE).

Porter used a mixture of reserves and first-teamers in Portland’s first CCL match, a 2-1 win against C.D. Dragon on Aug. 4. He needed his full complement of stars, with Best XI candidate Diego Valeri scoring in the 90th-minute to give Portland all three points.

That game, however, wasn’t on the road, nor was it in the midst of the late-season playoff battle the Timbers currently find themselves in. How Porter manages his roster as he balances his desire for the club’s first-ever CCL Knockout Round berth with the sixth-place Timbers’ drive to stay above the red line in the West could have major implications on both competitions.