Costa Rica's John Jairo Ruiz (red jersey) attempts to pass against Honduras in a 2015 CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying Championship match on October 4, 2015, in Carson, California. (Photo: Mexsport)
CARSON, California – Luis Fernando Fallas knew it would be challenge when he accepted the Costa Rica under-23 managerial reins in May.
He was asked to do something the Ticos had accomplished only three times before – and just once in the last 30 years -- despite a rich footballing history: book a ticket to the Olympic Games.
Although it registered just one win in five Central American qualifiers, Costa Rica earned a place in the 2015 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship (CMOQ). That success was due in large part to a defense that posted four shutouts, including two against Guatemala in a playoff.
Offensively, the Costa Ricans scored only three goals, two of them coming in a 2-2 draw with Nicaragua. One of those scorers, Ariel Lassiter, was not on the final 20-man roster.
It became obvious that if the objective of reaching Rio 2016 was to be realized, the defense would have to be nearly flawless in CMOQ play. Then, in its opening Group B match at the StubHub Center, Costa Rica suffered a 4-0 loss to Mexico. A 2-0 setback at the hands of Central American-rival Honduras followed on Sunday, resulting in elimination with a game left to play.
“We have to remember that this category is in a rebuilding stage with guys coming from the under-17 and under-20 teams, who didn’t have a lot of experience,” said Fallas. “These kids, though, have a lot of talent. It’s difficult when they are in this type of situation, but these are the things that football hands you and you have to learn from it.”
Costa Rica will close out its CMOQ campaign against Haiti on Wednesday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado. Fallas will use the game as a coaching opportunity.
“We will now give playing time to some of the players who haven’t seen action in this tournament,” the 41-year-old finished. “We need to give everyone we can some experience, so we can continue to grow.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get the results we wanted or didn’t reach our goal this time around.”