An unlikely hero emerged as Liga Deportiva Alajuelense won the Costa Rican league title for the 27th time Sunday. Argenis Fernandez, who played briefly for the Revolution in 2008, converted the deciding penalty kick as the Alajuela club defeated Herediano.
Fernandez entered as a substitute in the 104th minute after Alajuelense lost a player to a red-card ejection. The score remained 1-1, mostly thanks to the goalkeeping of Alajuelense’s Patrick Pemberton, then went to penalties. After Jose Manuel Cubero hit the post with what would be Heredia’s final penalty kick, Fernandez fired past goalkeeper Daniel Cambronero.
Alajuelense won its third successive title and qualified for Champions League play, beginning next May.
Fernandez, who had emerged as a national team forward last year, experienced an injury-plagued season and was apparently not in Alajuelense’s plans for the championship match at Heredia’s Estadio Rosabal Cordero.
But Fernandez has found success after struggling with the Revolution. In ’08, the Revolution looked to Costa Rica for reinforcements. Former coach Steve Nicol took Gabriel Badilla from CD Saprissa, believing he had found a successor to Michael Parkhurst. And former assistant Paul Mariner went on a striker search, selecting Fernandez over Victor Nunez, a Dominican-born veteran who had been on a hot streak.
Neither Badilla nor Fernandez fit in with the Revolution, though. Badilla was often injured and played a total of seven games over a season and a half. Fernandez had two reserve role appearances, then returned to Alajuela.
Fernandez was barely 21 when he joined the Revolution and, standing about 5 feet 7 inches, seemed younger. He was born and raised in Paso Canoas, a small town near the Panama border, and probably needed more time to adjust.
But within weeks of returning to Alajuelense, Fernandez was scoring goals in Champions League games, and soon earned a call-up to the Ticos’ national team. Fernandez’s progress helped confirm Mariner’s eye for talent and also showed Major League Soccer sometimes does not present favorable circumstances for skillful, under-sized players.
The Revolution first started seeking talent in Costa Rica in 2000, when they brought in William Sunsing and Mauricio Wright. A relationship seemed to be developing as the Revolution took preseason trips to Costa Rica and then faced Alajuelense in their first Champions Cup series in 2003. In ’06, the Revolution and Alajuelense were again matched in the Champions Cup, an epic home and away series (the Revolution were hosts in Bermuda) in which the Costa Ricans scored the only goal in the 90th minute of the second match.
Both of the ’06 teams were filled with talent, symbolized by Alajuelense’s Bryan Ruiz and the Revolution’s Clint Dempsey, who would both be off to Europe later that year. Ruiz and Dempsey have been reunited as Fulham teammates and were involved in highlight goals in a 2-0 victory over Bolton Saturday.
The Revolution attempted to capitalize on their relationship with Alajuelense, making an offer for forward Emil Martinez, who turned them down for a Chinese team.
The Revolution’s instincts have been good, as Costa Rica is filled with reasonably-priced talent, but they have not been successful with the following through by providing a setup conducive toward developing recruits from Central America.
Revolution feel draft
Most MLS teams have paid little attention to the re-entry draft, which was established last year to provide an avenue for veteran free agent movement within the league. But the Revolution are using the draft as a first step toward rebuilding, selecting defender Danleigh Borman, forward Nate Jaqua, and midfielder Clyde Simms.
Borman, from South Africa via the University of Rhode Island and New York Red Bulls, could move into a starting position at left back.
Jaqua is an interesting choice, as he has been an antagonist in some of the Revolution’s most dramatic games, involved in some physical matchups with current coach Jay Heaps. Jaqua performed for Chicago against the Revolution in the playoffs and started for Houston in the ’07 MLS Cup final and ’08 SuperLiga final.
“We don’t look at that at all,’’ Revolution general manager Michael Burns said of the Revolution-Jaqua rivalry. “We don’t look at where they’ve been and what kind of games they had against the Revolution in terms of battles. If they can help our team we want them.
“All three have received offers and we are waiting to see if they are accepted. Hopefully, we will have deals done with each of them. Their alternatives are to not continue playing or not play in MLS, and we’re hoping they want to re-sign with MLS and play for the Revs.
“We would like to try to get some stuff done before the end of the year, but there is no dead-set timeline. As we said before the re-entry draft, any time there is a draft we take it seriously and look at it as an opportunity to strengthen our team.’’
Barcelona on fire
In a one-week period, Barcelona defeated Real Madrid (3-1), then went to Japan for wins over Asian champion Al Sadd (4-0), and Copa Libertadores winner Santos (4-0) in the World Club Cup.
Barcelona dominated all three matches, but not everything went its way as David Villa suffered a broken leg against Al Sadd. Barcelona also surrendered a goal 22 seconds into the game at Real Madrid, thanks to a giveaway by goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
In the Champions League, only Milan has been able to cope with Barcelona’s possession game, taking a 1-0 victory, then falling, 3-2. Teams such as Inter and Milan - highly technical, mentally strong, potent counterattacking ability - have matched up with Barcelona.
Real Madrid, loaded with expensive talent, nearly got into shootout with Barcelona, but Cristiano Ronaldo squandered chances to keep his team in contention. At least coach Jose Mourinho finally realized Real Madrid must stay true to its attacking tradition, and went with a three-forward alignment in the game.