MIAMI, Florida – For Liga Deportiva Alajuelense fans, the 2004 Concacaf Champions Cup Final will live forever. Not only was it the second time that the Costa Rican club won their second Concacaf crown, but it came against historic domestic rivals Deportivo Saprissa.
Alajuelense emerged with a 5-1 victory on aggregate, capped by a superb 4-0 win in the second leg at home. The man behind that Concacaf conquest was Javier Delgado, who was in his first full year as Alajuelense Head Coach after a long playing career at the club.
Now more than 16 years later, the two clubs will square off in another Concacaf Final in the 2020 Scotiabank Concacaf League on February 3. For Delgado, the memories of those two legs against Saprissa are still very fresh, beginning with his team’s 1-1 draw in the first leg.
The first leg, which was Saprissa’s home leg, had to be played at the Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero in Heredia, Costa Rica, due to their home stadium of the Estadio Saprissa being unavailable. That change of location proved to be an advantage for Delgado’s men.
“It was totally different. Everyone knows what it is like to visit the Saprissa Stadium. The fans are on top of you, it’s always full, there is a lot of pressure, so it was an advantage because Saprissa was the away team just like us,” said Delgado in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com.
“It was an even match and ended 1-1 and reflected the parity that existed at that moment. I do think it was an advantage that the match was played in the Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero,” added Delgado.
That set the stage for the second leg at Alajuelense’s Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto and what followed was as good of a team performance as ever witnessed in a Concacaf Final.
“It was a monologue. It was a match that from start to finish was dominated by us with good football, with big goals at the right moments. Saprissa never had a response in that match; we never allowed it. We scored the first goal and immediately tried to get the second,” said Delgado.
Even all these years later, Delgado is constantly reminded by fans of the club of that May 2004 night when Alajuelense ran circles around their biggest rival.
“It was one of those memorable games that always remain in the minds of fans and probably ranks first or second in their top five. Any time I have any type of activity or situation with a fan, they always remind me of that 4-0, and not just for the scoreline but for how the team played on the field. It is one of those matches in which we all watched it so much on VHS that the tape wore out. In the minds of Alajuelense fans, that Final is always present and now with this Final it is something that will be recalled by Alajuelense fans, and for Saprissa fans this is like a great rematch of what happened 16 years ago,” said Delgado.
One of the key decisions from Delgado prior to the Final came as a result of a suspension to Bryan Ruiz, who was sent off in the semifinal second leg against Monterrey. The young coach looked to Alejandro Alpizar to fill the void and Alpizar responded with two goals in the 4-0 second leg win.
“Alpizar and Froylan Ledezma in attack were fundamental. It was lethal. The strength, power and effort of Froylan with the craftiness of Alpizar was a very interesting formula. The opening for Alpizar came about from Bryan Ruiz’s suspension, so Alpizar took his place and took full advantage of it. It was one of those instances when a player sees an opportunity that he has been waiting for and made the most of it,” said Delgado.
Delgado was also forced to make a change at goalkeeper for the second leg. With Ricardo Gonzalez out suspended, back-up Wardy Alfaro was called on to be a rock in the Alajuelense goal.
“We also had to make a change at goalkeeper because Ricardo Gonzalez, who had been the goalkeeper in all the previous matches and had done a great job, got a yellow card in the first match and was suspended for the second leg. So, it was Wardy Alfaro’s chance to play and experience that memorable match. It is just one of those interesting things that happens in football. Sometimes, someone thinks they won’t get to play and then suddenly they get their chance and they do well. In the few chances that Saprissa had, Wardy responded very well,” said Delgado.
Yet in the end, Delgado viewed Alajuelense’s magical night in the second leg as the ultimate team performance
“That team was so well balanced and helped us attack from both angles. It wasn’t just Alajuelense was only going to attack from one side, we had different ways, different variations and up top with Froylan and Alpizar, it was a complete performance. It was one of those matches that you always dream about and that came true,” concluded Delgado.