MIAMI, Florida – In the history of Concacaf club tournaments, there has always been a healthy presence of teams from Costa Rica. Deportivo Saprissa, CS Herediano and Alajuelense are among the clubs that have left their mark in continental tournaments, but in 2017 a new name came on the scene in the form of Santos de Guapiles.
Making their Concacaf club tournament debut in the first ever Scotiabank Concacaf League in 2017, Santos de Guapiles reached the Final before narrowly losing to Honduran club Olimpia in a penalty shootout.
The man behind that remarkable run from Santos was Head Coach Johnny Chaves, whose preparation for the tournament started that May at the draw in Miami.
“From the first moment there in Miami, everything was well organized with the draw, with each match, and we made a strong effort to continue on that line,” said Chaves in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com. “We really enjoyed the tournament and from the second round on the matches were all very competitive. The level was very high.”
After posting an 8-3 victory on aggregate in the Round of 16 over San Juan Jabloteh of Trinidad and Tobago, Chaves’ side went on an incredible run of five straight clean sheet results, which carried the Ticos all the way to the Final.
“It was four matches plus the first leg of the final in which the team didn’t give up a goal, so five straight matches. The team did well in the defensive zone with a back line of five defenders well positioned. We used a mixed midfield, and when the team didn’t respond on the field, we had [GK and 2017 SCL Golden Glove winner] Bryan Morales. When the midfield did not have success, the goalkeeper saved us with some very good saves,” said Chaves.
The Final was as razor-thin as it gets with Santos winning 1-0 in Honduras before Olimpia took the second leg 1-0 in Costa Rica, leading to Olimpia’s penalty shootout win.
Still, Morales and the Santos defense would prove very able against a high-flying Olimpia attack that consisted of Golden Boot winner Roger Rojas (5 goals), Golden Ball winner Michaell Chirinos and legendary striker Carlo Costly.
“The two games were very close. There in Honduras, Olimpia had the initiative but we had a good defensive block and a good counterattack and that’s how the goal came. We basically were able to control Olimpia, which had a very good attack with Costly, Chirinos and Rojas. And here in Costa Rica they scored a goal in the first half, Costly had a chance in the second half, but they were two very close games. It was decided in penalties and in penalties Olimpia was more efficient than we were,” said Chaves.
Despite coming up just short in the Final, Chaves looks back on that inaugural SCL with a great sense of pride in having led Santos to its first ever Concacaf final, which laid the groundwork for two Santos players joining European clubs.
“I am proud to have made history with Santos de Guapiles. Historically, Santos has not been among the biggest teams in Costa Rica, but it has produced good players and has been in playoffs. That tournament [the 2017 SCL] allowed Santos to have an international projection with players from the youth team and two of those players are in Europe [MF Ian Smith in Sweden and MF Wilmer Azofeifa in Norway]. The tournament allowed them to show their quality and get to Europe and all of that fills me with pride,” concluded Chaves.