In many countries it is often the case that two predominant clubs battle for national supremacy, creating a traditional rivalry which looms large over the domestic scene. Costa Rica is no exception: ever since the very early days of professionalism, the championship race has almost always involved Liga Deportiva Alajuelense and Deportivo Saprissa, who boast an astonishing 56 league titles between them.
Both clubs lay valid claim to being Costa Rica’s strongest side, though in recent years it has been LD Alajuelense who have enjoyed greater success. Los Manudos, as they are affectionately known, have won each of the last three league titles, much to the delight of their passionate supporters, who have become accustomed to attractive football and consistent success.
Birth of an institution
Liga Deportiva Alajuelense are one of the oldest clubs in Central America. Formed on 18 June 1919 by a handful of players from Once de Abril who decided to form a new team befitting their lofty ambitions, the fledgling outfit quickly became a popular institution.
Alajuelense’s first official match ended in a 3-1 victory over Cartagines. Two years later they were one of seven founding members of the Costa Rican Primera Division and to this day remain the only one of this group of seven never to have been relegated from the top flight.
The making of a legend
Although Alajuelense frequently challenged for the title in the league’s formative years, the club seemed to operating under a curse. Throughout the first two decades of their existence, the red-and-blacks only managed two titles (in 1928 and 1939), though the second of those triumphs provided the springboard for a far more successful future.
Also in 1939, one of Alajuelense’s strikers was crowned top scorer for the first time. Alejandro Morera Soto was hailed as an icon at the club and would later lend his name to the stadium at which the team has played its home fixtures since the 1940s.
Soto fired Los Manudos to two further titles in 1941 and 1945 and from there on in, Los Rojinegros have been a permanent force. The club have won at least two titles per decade since, peaking in the 1990s and early 2000s when Alajuelense’s acclaimed youth system produced a string of quality players who went on to secure eight league titles, including four in a row between 1999 and 2003.
This ‘golden generation’ also provided several players to the Costa Rican national squad. The likes of Luis Marin, Wilmer Lopez and Rolando Fonseca all competed at the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ in Korea/Japan, while several Manudo men represented Los Ticos at the Olympic Men’s Football Tournament Athens 2004. What is more, In that same year, Alajuelense won the CONCACAF Champions Cup (Now the CONCACAF Champions League) for the second time in their history.
After winning the domestic championship again in 2005, a barren spell followed and Alajuelense remained helpless as arch-rivals Saprissa dominated. All in all, Los Manudos were made to suffer at the hands of their perennial foes for five long years, enduring a run of 20 matches without victory over their rivals. As if that were not agonising enough, Saprissa also secured their name in the history books with a third-place finish at the FIFA Club World Cup 2005 in Japan.
These were dark days for Alajuelense, but the club responded positively by going back to the drawing board and starting afresh. For the past three short tournaments, Los Rojinegros have once again been the team to beat in Costa Rica, securing the 27th title in their history just a few weeks ago with a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory against another top side, Herediano, following a 1-1 draw.
The Alejandro Morera Soto Stadium is one of the most historic football arenas in Costa Rica. It was opened on 18 January 1942 and for many years consisted solely of wooden terracing. Several redevelopments later, the stadium took on its current form in 1985 with the completion of the north stand. The stadium now boasts a capacity of 17,895 and has hosted numerous matches involving the Costa Rican national team.
City: Alajuela, Costa Rica
Founded: 18 July 1919
Official website: www.lda.cr
27 Costa Rican championships (1928, 1939, 1941, 1945, 1949, 1950, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1970, 1971, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, Winter 2010, Summer 2011, Winter 2011, Winter 2012, Winter 2013)
2 CONCACAF Champions Leagues (1986, 2004)
2 UNCAF Champions (2002, 2005)
Virgilio Chaverri, Roberto Figueredo, José Luis Solera, Alejandro Morera Soto, Francisco Zeledón, José Soto, Juan Soto, José Luis Rojas, Carlos Villalobos, Juan José Gámez, Errol Daniels, Juan Ulloa, Roy Saenz, Óscar Cordero, Alejandro González, Jorge Ulate, Juan Carlos Arguedas, Mauricio Montero, Javier Delgado, Wilmer López, Luis Marín, Álvaro Mésen, Ronald Gómez, Josef Miso, Ricardo González, Harold Wallace, Rolando Fonseca, Víctor Núñez, Pablo Gabas, Cristian Oviedo, Johnny Acosta