Kenneth Hernández Cerdas
HEREDIA, Costa Rica - Jose Miguel Cubero remembers last year's experience in the CONCACAF Champions League.
After his club Herediano club routed Guyanese amateur side Alpha United in the Preliminary Round 10-2 on aggregate, the 22-time Costa Rican champion lost three straight to start the Group Stage, beginning with a 5-0 loss to eventual champion Monterrey.
Cubero and his teammates are determined to not repeat the disastrous campaign which saw the 91-year-old club, which enjoys one of Central America's most faithful fan bases, finish last in its group with the fourth-worst record in the competition.
"It was due to the lack of experience that we had at the beginning of the tournament," Cubero said. "(When) we came back home (against Monterrey), we barely lost (1-0). That means that we learned our lesson and we need to put it in practice."
With the experience behind it, the 25-year-old Cubero, a defensive midfielder with more than a dozen appearances for Costa Rica, feels that " El Team", as the club is often called, can make a dent in this year's Champions League.
With some knowledge of their opponents, like 2011 CCL runner-up Real Salt Lake and its Costa Rican forward Alvaro Saborio, Cubero and his teammates know they must be respectful but not fearful whe its opens against RSL July 31 in Costa Rica.
"Saborio's team is tough. They've done well recently in CONCACAF, however, we have the experience based on what we went through last tournament and we know that we cannot drop points at home." he said. "We need to start on the right foot and the only way to do that is to win."
Some others already have said that the change in the Champions League competition format - eliminating the Preliminary Round, going from four groups of four teams to eight groups of three and only the group winners advancing to the quarterfinals - will this year's competition more difficult.
According to Cubero, changes in the format doesn't change Herediano's objectives.
"When a group has a clear goal in mind and know what it wants, then things can come together like they have for Saprissa in the past," he said. "There are tough opponents but we will give a fight."
With the eight U.S. and Mexican teams divided among the eight groups, Cubero identifies them as favorites.
Herediano will enter the Champions League without Uruguayan midfielder and last year's team scoring leader Jose Carlos Cancela, who transferred to Saprissa in the offseason.
Cubero at least feels Herediano will have the boost of coming in as the reigning Costa Rican champ.
"It means something, but it's better," he said. "The confidence is at its highest and we will look for the best for not only our institution but also Costa Rican soccer in general."
Herediano is in Group 2 with Real Salt Lake and Tauro of Panama and will visit Tauro on August 30. The club will then host the Panamanians on September 25 before wrapping up with a visit to Salt Lake on October 23.