When the 2010 World Cup kicked off in South Africa in June, members of La Sele watched from home. Eliminated in a playoff game against South American side Uruguay in late 2009, the Costa Rican national team was forced to lament what could have been, as Honduras served as the lone Central American representative to South Africa.
While La Sele was left out of the world’s biggest sporting event, other Ticos shone on the world stage, most notably track star Nery Brenes and soccer striker Bryan Ruiz.
Brenes, a native of the Caribbean port city of Limón, burst onto the international stage this year, winning several gold medals in international competitions in the 400-meter run and 4-x-400 meter relays. At the Central American and Caribbean Games in July, Brenes won Costa Rica’s only gold medal with a time of 44.84 seconds in the 400-meter run. Brenes’ time was clocked as the 10th fastest 400-meter time in the world in 2010.
“This was a year of great success for me and a year I can build upon as I train for the 2012 Olympics in London,” Brenes said Dec. 11 at San José’s Festival of Lights parade, for which he was appointed “marshal.” “Every time I run, I represent Costa Rica, and I am so happy and thankful to know that you all are behind me.”
On the international soccer stage, Tico striker Bryan Ruiz made a name for Costa Rica with his Dutch club team FC Twente. In his first season with the club, Ruiz scored 24 goals in 34 appearances to lead the club to its first-ever league championship. FC Twente hadn’t won a league title since its creation in 1965.
“This was an unforgettable season, not only for the team, but for me, personally, as well,” Ruiz said after the final game in May, in which he scored in a 2-0 win. “When I arrived in Holland, I had hopes that I would be able to accomplish many things, though I knew it would not be easy. My teammates and coach welcomed me and put a lot of confidence in me from the beginning of the season. Now we are celebrating together as champions of the league.”
By winning the Dutch league, FC Twente qualified for the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League, the world’s most prestigious international club soccer event. Though FC Twente was eliminated from the competition in the first round, the team fared well, earning a draw with the 2009 champion Inter Milan of Italy and a 2-0 win over German side Werder Bremen.
Two other Ticos playing abroad, Cristian Bolaños and Bryan Oviedo, also appeared in the Champions League with Denmark’s FC Copenhagen. In a group with world power FC Barcelona, Copenhagen finished second with 10 points and advanced to the second round of the tournament. In November, Copenhagen tied FC Barcelona 1-1.
Back at home in the Costa Rican First Division league, legendary Tico club Deportivo Saprissa, known as “the monster,” won its 27th league title in the spring season. In the fall season, Barrio México, a club formed when the Liberia Mía franchise had financial problems, surged to the top of the league. However, in the final weeks of the year, the franchise funds went dry and the team folded. What looked to be a good Cinderella story for the year resulted in further proof of a flawed First Division league.
New Sheriff in Town
While La Sele didn’t have much to play for in 2010, a new coach, Argentine Ricardo La Volpe, signed on to lead the Ticos into the new year. La Volpe, who won a World Cup title with Argentina in 1978, comes to Costa Rica with a strong track record as coach in the Mexican First Division and coach for the Mexican national team in 2006. In 2006, La Volpe led Mexico to the round of 16, only to lose 2-1 to his native Argentina.
In his first game as coach of Costa Rica, La Sele played to a hapless 0-0 draw against Jamaica.
Ticos on the Gridiron, Hardwood
Though Costa Rica is a fútbol-first nation, other sports are beginning to grow in popularity throughout the country.
The Costa Rican First Division of American football completed its second season in 2010 and is gearing up for a third campaign in 2011. The league, which is made up of mostly Tico and U.S. players, was officially recognized in 2010 as a national sports league by the Costa Rican Sports and Recreation Institute (ICODER).
“Now that we are backed by ICODER, we are going to be able to develop more young players who are going to be able to train and learn the game earlier on,” said José López, Santa Ana Bulldogs coach and commissioner of the First Division. “The ICODER acceptance will really help the league and bring in an unreal amount of benefits. This will bring sponsorships and, hopefully, more attendance. … Football most definitely has a future here.”
In 2010, about 230 players played on six Central Valley teams. Members of the league expect two more teams, if not more, to join the league for the third season, which kicks off in January.
On the hardwood, Costa Rican basketball had a broader following this year in the Costa Rican First Division League. The eight-team league, which stretches from San Ramón to Perez Zeledón, has amassed a crop of quality young players from Costa Rica, Panama and the U.S. The cream of that crop was on display in October as Heredia’s Ferretería Brenes Barva played Universidad de San José at San Ramón (USJ Arba) in a competitive six-game series for the league championship. Barva won the championship, claiming its fifth consecutive title.
“As long as the federation continues to promote and support the sport and put the idea of basketball into the public mind, I think basketball definitely has a future here,” said Barva coach Luis Blanco, who has coached in Costa Rica for more than 30 years. “It’s continuing to grow, and our job is to make sure it keeps growing.”