• Saturday Dec 08, 2012

    Comunicaciones, Gonzalez target Guatemalan title

    GUATEMALA CITY - As far as the standings go, there's little doubt that Comunicaciones has been the best team in Guatemala in 2012, coming out on top of the table in both tournaments played this year. But as long as the proud club has no trophy to show for that accomplishment, Cremas' fans and the organization as a whole won't rest easy.

    Comunicaciones' Costa Rican head coach, Ronald Gonzalez, admits as much. The former Tico international, who defended the back line for Cremas from 1998 to 2001, took charge of the club at the close of 2011. In his two tournaments at the helm, the ex-Costa Rican U-20 chief has produced consistently impressive results, with the notable exception of a semifinal setback in the Clausura 2012 to archrival Municipal.

    This time around, though, the former Costa Rican captain, capped 65 times for his country, isn't prepared to fall back on a spectacular regular season, in which the Cremas banked an impressive 50 points from 22 matches, leaving the competition in the rearview mirror with ease. Instead, the coach and his team know that even such a feat will be meaningless if they can't lift the Apertura trophy later this month.

    "There's no other explanation or reason, we have to be champions," Gonzalez told CONCACAF.com in an exclusive interview. "The fans aren't going to remember me or my team as the one that got 50 points in a season, never. And total we have 96 in two tournaments, which is a lot, but if we don't have the cup and the title, that means nothing."

    To realize that challenge, Comunicaciones will have to get through three playoff rounds, after the Liga Mayor expanded the post season to eight teams for this tournament. Remembering the reverse suffered at the hands of Municipal in May, Gonzalez recognizes that teams play with a different intensity in the Liguilla.

    "The rivals mark you differently, there's another level, another type of attention, another type of demand, it's an elimination match," the coach said. "It's not a game in the fifth round of the regular season, but rather a semifinal, and that weighs on you. We have to have the maturity to manage that as well."

    Comunicaciones passed the initial test, in the quarterfinals against Marquense, a team with a strong tradition that finished eighth in the regular season, but still posed a stiff challenge for the leaders in the opening round of the playoffs.

    Under the watchful gaze of Gonzalez, the Cremas came back after falling behind 2-0 early, to tie the away match on the road. Comunicaciones then overcame the team from San Marcos, 3-0, at home last Saturday at the Estadio Cementos Progreso, to advance once again to the semifinal round.

    Gonzalez attributes the quarterfinal victory to a wholly team effort, something which is becoming a hallmark of this Comunicaciones squad.

    "What I told them at half time is that we depend not on a good 20 minutes, or a half," said the Costa Rican skipper. "We fall back on our long term work. Nothing that's happened here has been coincidence. They've been consistent, everyone has chipped in, and this team has played without nine, ten starters, when we've sent players out to the national team. Thinking that everyone on the team is important is one of our strong points."

    The going wasn't easy against Marquense, as the tie was still deadlocked in the 73rd minute of the second match, when defender Carlos Castrillo scored to send the Cremas on their way to the semifinals.

    There were moments, on Saturday and during the course of the long, successful season, when the fans lost patience with their team and its coach, and began to whistle or boo Gonzalez. But the Costa Rican recognizes that such frustration is normal among fans everywhere, no matter how well the season might be going.

    "I'd love to win the title today, but we still have a ways to go," Gonzalez said. "Football brings out emotions, and it's a way for people to get their tension out. In one moment they can be whistling and the next, singing 'ole.' One moment they can be yelling at a player for missing a goal and the next he puts it in the angle, and everyone celebrates. It's a roller coaster of emotions that with the years, you learn to manage, and that the players game by game learn to manage better."

    With the club now in the semifinals, the pressure is only building on the Costa Rican and his team, due to Comunicaciones' constant role as favorite, and the expectation of victory and even domination that comes with each match.

    But even if Gonzalez admits to feeling that pressure, the coach says that both he and his team need to manage it wisely, since it's something he characterizes as completely normal in the club game at the highest levels. For the past Costa Rican international captain, who scored for his country as a 19-year-old at the World Cup Italy 1990, these experiences at the helm of Comunicaciones leave him with important lessons as he grows as a coach.

    "They're very hard lessons," Gonzalez said. "I've been on that bench, and I've been cheered, and I've been booed. It's a constant not only for me, but for the famous coaches in the world. Mourinho has that pressure week to week, when he's eleven or twelve points behind his archrival. In Italy there's pressure, in Argentina. You have to come through it and let it forge your character, and try to transmit that to the players."

    The pressure will continue to build on Gonzalez for the time being, as he and his team seek the Cremas' 25th title, second only to Municipal in the history of the Guatemalan league.

    On Wednesday, in a downpour in San Marcos, the Cremas played to a scoreless tie with Malacateco in the away leg of the semifinals. The return match will be played Saturday at the Estadio Cementos Progreso, with Gonzalez's team in its usual role as favorite, and all the expectations that generates.

    The Grand Final in Guatemala is set for next week, with a possible renewal of hostilities between the Cremas and the Rojos, the most historic rivalry in Guatemalan football. And while it would represent a certain level of accomplishment for most clubs just to make it to a final, Gonzalez knows that given the history of Club de Futbol Comunicaciones, the only result that will serve him when all is said and done is to lift the cup at the conclusion of the Apertura 2012.

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