SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- As stadiums go, from the outside Saprissa Stadium looks just about like any other soccer ground in the world.
The white stadium is situated in the Tibas neighborhood of Heredia just outside the Costa Rican capital. Parking is next to impossible as fans walk blocks or even kilometers to support their favorite team.
What has made this ground different from the others is the fans, who can be quite daunting. They are loud and can make supporters of other teams look like rank amateurs or beginners.
Saprissa's fans are notorious for their intimidation -- especially a crowd of 24,000 produce the volume of twice their number and can make the sky rain debris. Both methods strike fear into the hearts of its opposition.
Call it what you want -- the Purple Monster, the Cave, the Cauldron or the Pit, it is the place where visiting teams struggle, especially during World Cup qualifying.
U.S. international Landon Donovan vividly remembered his first Saprissa experience during a qualifier in 2001.
"I was never ever part of a game like that, so much passion literally," he said. "In the locker room, the stadium was shaking. There is such an intimidation factor that they use to their advantage that you don't see any where else in the world, even in big European games. You don't see the same environment you see in some of these places."
The local faithful at Saprissa Stadium, however, have paid for their zeal and fervor.
During Saprissa's 3-0 CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinals victory over Atlante (Mexico) in March 2008, fans threw small objects onto the field. An Atlante player was cut on his face by a coin, according to reports.
Saprissa was fined $15,000 by CONCACAF, which wanted additional security prior to the next round.
The club responded by prohibiting fans to enter the stadium with coins, radios, cameras and small objects. People who had coins were asked to donate it to a Costa Rican cancer charity or exchange it for a special credit card that is accepted at concession stands at the stadium. Saprissa also added a rail guard that prevents the Ultra Morada (aka La Ultra) from getting close to the high metal fence -- which surrounds the entire pitch. And the club has added extra security in the form of undercover officers among the crowd.
In the first leg of the Verano season of the Costa Rica championship -- a 1-0 Saprissa victory over Alajuelense - in May, there were no streamers thrown onto the field, no flares hurled or shower of coins.
While it appeared to be a much safer environment, the fans showed their support to the home side.
A good 75 minutes prior to the kickoff several hundred hearty Ultra Morada fans already were standing or sitting behind one of the goals in ponchos or under umbrellas enduring a relentless downpour (it was rainy season, which runs from May through November; every afternoon for a minimum of two-three hours, sometimes up to eight or even 10 hours).
La Ultra Morada sang, chanted and bounced up and down for two hours in rain. Their volume loud. But whether it was the constant rain or the sanctions by the club imposed, the fans supporters didn't seem to be their usual intimidating selves.
The real test will be in 2009 when the Ticos host five World Cup qualifiers in the final CONCACAF round. The hexagonal will begin on February 11, when Costa Rica and Saprissa play host to Honduras.