• Wednesday Oct 24, 2012

    Costa Rican clubs prosper in new CCL format

    ALAJUELA, Costa Rica -- It's been unusually rough going for Central American teams in this year's edition of the CONCACAF Champions League.  Through four complete rounds, half of the twelve Central American entrants in this year's tournament had already been eliminated, while several others were set to play for survival this week.

    But the performance of Costa Rican teams has proved exceptional.Herediano and Alajuelense will go into the last match date with not only a chance to move on, but the inside track to the quarterfinals, after outstanding CCL campaigns thus far.

    It seems that after the same pair of Costa Rican representatives failed to advance past the group stage last year, experience seems to have has paid off this time around.

    At home Tuesday night, Herediano saw off a stiff challenge from Panamanian visitor Tauro to go three points clear of Real Salt Lake at the top of Group 2.  The 2012 Summer Tournament champion will now head to Utah for an October 23rd showdown with the MLS side, knowing that any result besides a loss would mean a first-ever CCL quarterfinal berth for El Team.

    Alajuelense, a veteran of CONCACAF competition, has an equally clear path to the quarters after tying Mexican side Tigres at home earlier this season.  If La Liga can beat already-eliminated Nicaraguan side Real Esteli at home on Thursday, it will need only to avoid a loss on the final match day in Monterrey to reach yet another quarterfinal at the regional level.

    Seeing its teams succeed internationally, though, is not new for Costa Rican football.  Whereas several Central American clubs have managed to play their way deep into the tournament over the last decade, it's been primarily Costa Rica supplying the firmest competition to the region's larger leagues in Mexico and the United States.

    In fact, the only teams not from Mexico or the U.S. to win the regional championship over the last quarter century have been Costa Rican -- Tico sides have captured no fewer than five regional crowns since 1993, second only to Mexican clubs.

    But while this is no new phenomenon, Costa Rican teams have some recent history of success as well.Alajuelense and Saprissa famously managed back-to-back titles in the 2004 and 2005 editions of the Champions Cup, the predecessor to the CCL.  Three-time regional champion Saprissa even has the honor of being the highest ranking CONCACAF finisher at the FIFA Club World Cup, taking third in 2005.

    So the success reaped thus far in the current Champions League campaign should come as little surprise.  While some teams have struggled to make an impact under the new three-team group format, Costa Rica's last two champions are thriving.

    This year's triumphs have been impressive enough that many observers might even tip both Costa Rican sides to advance past the quarterfinals.

    Should that happen, it wouldn't be the first time.  After all, Herediano and Alajuelense's success in the 2012-13 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League is just another episode in a long history of achievement for Costa Rican club football.

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