In an odd sequence of events, this year's CONCACAF Champions League knockout round will kick off in insular fashion. The Mexican giants have all been drawn against each other, as have the two remaining MLS clubs. That leaves CCL regulars CD Olimpia of Honduras and Costa Rican powerhouse Deportivo Saprissa to face each other in the "other" quarterfinal tie.
The lack of hype surrounding this pairing should not give fans a reason to overlook either side, however. Olimpia won their group over Deportivo Toluca, who justifiably entered the tournament as one of the favorites. Saprissa, meanwhile, has the best recent pedigree in CONCACAF of any non-Mexican club; they are both the last non-Mexican finalist (2008) and the last non-Mexican club to win the tournament (2005). In other words, these are two proud clubs that will approach this round and the semifinals - against the winner of the all-MLS tie - with no fear.
How they got here
- CD Olimpia: Los Leones won the 2010 Honduran Clausura tournament and, having finished with more points than Apertura champions CD Marathon over both tournaments, qualified directly to the group stage. After doing poorly to start off (a 1-1 draw at the Puerto Rico Islanders, followed by an embarrassing 4-0 loss at Deportivo Toluca), Olimpia rebounded to win four straight matches and finish atop Group D. In doing so, Olimpia became only the fourth non-Mexican club to win their group since CONCACAF adopted the current CCL format.
Deportivo Saprissa: El Monstruo Morado qualified directly into the group stage as Costa Rica's top club after winning the 2010 Verano championship. Placed in a tough Group C, Saprissa rode their home form (taking seven of nine available points at the fearsome Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Ayma) to second place on 10 points. Saprissa was the only team in Group C to avoid losing twice to group winners CF Monterrey.
What's changed since CCL Group Stage
- CD Olimpia: Very little. Colombian forward Maurico Copete now plays for Honduran rivals CD Motagua. Olimpia replaced him by signing Brazilian striker Douglas Caetano, who regularly finished near the top of the goalscoring chart at Real Espana.
- Deportivo Saprissa: Coach Roy Myers was replaced by Mexican Juan Manuel Alvarez after a disastrous Invierno tournament in which they finished eleventh out of twelve teams. Major changes were made to the roster as well, with the return of midfielder Saul Phillip from Brujas foremost amongst them. Holding midfielder Jose Luis Lopez has returned from a loan spell at Dalian Shide in China, while no fewer than four players - goalkeeper Victor Bolivar, defender Roberto Wong, midfielder Maikol Ortiz, and striker William Phillips - were all acquired on loan from AD Barrio Mexico (who, while Saprissa struggled during the Invierno, finished second overall).
- CD Olimpia: (4-4-2) - Valladares; Barahona, Arevalo, De Souza, B. Lozano; O. Garcia, Tilguath, W. Castro, Turcios; Rojas, Bruschi
- Deportivo Saprissa: (4-3-1-2) - Bolivar; Wong, Mena, D. Sequeira, Badilla; Blanco, Guzman, Ortiz; Centeno; Martinez, A. Sequeira
Head to head
- CD Olimpia wins if: Fabio De Souza keeps the back four organized, and if Roger Rojas and Ramiro Bruschi can be clinical when they get chances. Saprissa is the highest scoring team in Costa Rica this season, so keeping things tight (especially on the FieldTurf at Estadio Saprissa in the second leg) will be very important. However, just as important for Olimpia will be finishing their chances when they come. Saprissa's goalscoring only partially masks their mediocre defense; this is a team that wins 3-2, not 1-0. Olimpia's attackers will get their chances to score, but wasting those chances would leave Olimpia open to a heavy first leg defeat.
- Deportivo Saprissa wins if: They can collectively shut down Oscar Boniek Garcia. The Olimpia midfield has decent skill, but the only player that truly breaks defenses down on a regular basis is the marauding Garcia. If Saprissa can force Garcia to have to pass before he can begin running at people, they can cut the supply line to their forwards and leave Olimpia relying on set pieces. It's going to take a collective effort, though, because left back Gabriel Badilla can be beaten if left to deal with Garcia alone.
Prediction: Expect drama, acrimony, controversy, and goals here. Both clubs view themselves as the kings of Central American soccer, and there are a couple of hotheads sprinkled throughout each team. Saprissa will look strong at home, but Olimpia should be able to emerge from "The Monster's Cave" with a 2-2 draw thanks to the home side's shoddy defense. While Olimpia will have to play their "home" leg on the other side of the country - their home, the Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino, was not cleared by CONCACAF, so they'll have to host the game in San Pedro Sula's Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano - they should still have enough support to emerge with a 2-1 win and a date with either Real Salt Lake or the Columbus Crew in the semifinals.
-Report by Chest Rockwell - Black & Red United