Montreal Impact successfully avoided Mexico’s Club Leon in last night’s CONCACAF Champions League draw, but were paired with the next trickiest opponent, Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica.
This will be no pushover for Thierry Henry in his first test as new Impact coach. Saprissa has been continental Champions on three occasions, runners-up four times, finished 3rd in the 2005 World Club Championship and has managed to get the better of MLS teams eight times in ten CONCACAF Champions League pairings (some admittedly in group stages rather than straight two-legged knock-out ties). FIFA-recognised body, International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) selected them as the CONCACAF Team of the 20th Century.
Their record against MLS clubs at home is impressive, 9-1-0, which includes two extra time victories. Only Colombus Crew in 2009/10 has won (1-0) at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Aymá, otherwise known as La Cueva del Monstruo (The Monster’s Cave), after the nickname of the club, El Monstruo Morado (“The Purple Monster”).
Away from home they’ve fared less well against clubs from MLS, 1-3-6, winning only at Seattle Sounders in 2011/12.
The match-up brings one of France’s most celebrated soccer icons head to head with one of Costa Rica’s in Walter Centeno (45), as Saprissa embark on their 25th Continental Championship campaign. Montreal Impact in contrast face their fourth.
Centeno is record cap holder for his country (135 and 24 goals) and played European Champions League football during one season spent at AEK Athens, in which he scored against Real Madrid at The Bernabeu and AS Roma at the eternal city’s Stadio Olimpico.
His nickname Paté has stuck from childhood due to his love for eating patés.
The game also brings a reunion with former player Johan Venegas, who spent 18 months at Stade Saputo from August 2015, scoring 3 times in 43 appearances (all comps).
Venegas went off to join Minnesota United and then Saprissa on loan in 2018, before making the deal permanent. He’s top-scored for the club since joining with a creditable 28 goals from midfield in 69 league appearances.
Venegas originally came to Montreal after impressing as part of the Alajuelense team defeated by Impact in the 2015 CONCACAF semi-final.
Deportivo Saprissa finished second, 12 points worse off than Alajuelense in the recently completed Apertura season, then lost 4-5 on a penalty shoot-out in the play-off semi-final to eventual champions Herediano after two 1-1 draws.
LAFC’s pairing with Club Leon of Mexico may well be the top pairing in the Round of 16, but this Impact tie with Saprissa promises to be an equally close and hard fought affair.
The first leg takes place in San Jose between 18-20 Feb, with the second-leg at Montreal’s Stade Olimpique a week later.
Should the Impact prevail over Saprissa, their quarter-final opponent is likely to be MLS Cup Champions, Seattle Sounders. Beyond that it would be difficult to avoid either one of New York City FC or last year’s beaten finalists, Tigres in the semis.
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