CHICAGO — The test of fire for Costa Rica and their head coach, Ricardo La Volpe, has finally arrived.
Los Ticos need just a draw in their third and final match of Group A to secure a spot in the quarterfinal round of the Gold Cup. However, they must do so against a potent Mexico squad coming off of two straight 5-0 victories against El Salvador and Cuba.
But aside from Gold Cup hopes, the ingredient that makes this matchup special and that has fans from both nations eagerly awaiting the game is that this will be La Volpe’s first go against the national team he guided years ago to the 2006 World Cup.
Throughout his four-year process from 2002-06, La Volpe introduced the world to players such as Andrés Guardado and Carlos Salcido — two key cogs in the current squad — won the 2003 Gold Cup with a victory over Brazil in the finals, and stomped the opposition during the qualifiers for Germany 2006, among many other accomplishments.
Needless to say, the Argentine tactician — who also has nearly two full decades of coaching experience in Mexico — knows El Tri like the back of his hand.
“Mexico’s a strong team that likes to go forward and play you one-on-one,” said La Volpe, who is expecting a tough, intense battle against El Tri. “Great games develop when the other team also pushes forward, which is why I think this will be a great game.
“Both of us will go out looking to get a result, leading to an open game that will feature scoring chances at both ends.”
Faithful to his attacking philosophy, the coach promised Costa Rica won’t lock down on defense.
“On Costa Rica’s part, I can assure you that we’re not going to go out simply looking to defend.”
Appointed head coach of Los Ticos in September 2010, La Volpe thinks Costa Rica’s soccer program is headed in the right direction.
“We’re working to become a power in CONCACAF,” he said. “We’re on the right track and amidst a process in which I’m getting to know the players and they’re getting to know me.”
Should they manage to win the 2011 Gold Cup, La Volpe’s ambition of making Costa Rica a regional giant would take a huge step forward. But it could all start with a win against Mexico on Sunday.