05.08.02 - A few short months after winning a 22nd championship in Costa Rica in dominating fashion, then serving as the heart of Costa Rica’s FIFA World Cup aspirations, Liga Deportiva Alajuelense is once again chasing the greatly desired title of continental champion.
It was 1986 when La Liga won their only Champions’ Cup, and since reaching the final three years ago the rojinegros have felt they were ready to again claim the prize, only to fall short. Following the fine performance of Costa Rica in Korea/Japan – where LDA provided eight players on the 23-man squad – the feeling is once again back in the suburban San José city.
Head coach Jorge Luis Pinto, who took over midway through last season’s Torneo Apertura, has seen very little turnover in the squad to this season. But he has lost three very influential performers.
Attacking talent Rolando Fonseca has returned to Guatemala, again to CSD Comunications, while midfielder Mauricio Solis and wingback Harold Wallace have moved on to Greece (OFI Crete) and Mexico (newly-promoted Club San Luis) respectively. All three were regulars in the Costa Rica World Cup side.
Fonseca’s departure means Pinto will have to find a strike partner for emergent Erick Scott, who led the club with 13 goals last season, his first as a full-time professional after playing in the 2001 World Youth Championship. But all three candidates are familiar faces to Liga supporters: Josef Miso, who led the league with 21 goals three seasons ago; Johnny Cubero, who has returned from a horrific broken leg, and Erick Jimenez, who led LDA with 14 goals in 2000-01 but then lost his place when Pinto took over.
The exit of Solis leaves a hole in the center of midfield, yet veteran Luis Diego Arnaez will almost certainly return to the role that was his until the emergence of Solis last season. Arnaez will slot in alongside Sandro Alfaro, another reclamation project who found a resurgence under Pinto.
The creativity in attack will come from two more members of the World Cup, a smooth playmaker in Wilmer Lopez and a very quick, livewire attacker in Steven Bryce. Argentinian native Pablo Izaguirre will also certainly figure, with vision and skill, especially on the dead ball.
Wallace leaves a hole on the right side of the back four, but the role will almost certainly be filled by Alexander Castro, who has played on the right side of defense at national level numerous times. His brother Carlos is first-choice on the left side for both club and country.
The center of defense is completed by two more national team regulars, steady Luís Marín and hard-tackling left-footed Pablo Chinchilla. Álvaro Mesén, who did not play a minute in Korea/Japan behind Erick Lonnis, returns for his fourth season as first-choice goalkeeper.