HOUSTON, TEXAS – The Rio Olympic Qualifying tournament has wrapped up and we now know that the United States and Canada will be representing CONCACAF during the Rio Olympics tournament in August. The draw to determine which of three groups the 12 qualifiers will fall into will be held on Thursday, April 14 at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Costa Rica had a strong chance to compete at the Rio Olympics, however they fell to Canada 3-1 thanks to a pair of fantastic volleys by Christine Sinclair. The Costa Rica program has come a long way in four years. Players like Shirley Cruz are four years older and young Raquel Rodriguez has helped Costa Rica add another dangerous scoring threat to the squad. However it’s not all fantastic with the Costa Rican Football Federation.
Cruz didn’t hold back in describing the lack of support from the Costa Rican Football Federation heading into Rio Olympic qualifiers.
“Compared to Mexico, the U.S. and Canada we were not as nearly prepared as them with the matches under our belt like them,” the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder said. “In that case we’d have to say that our federation didn’t support us with that kind of preparation as the other teams who came in well prepared.”
You know the situation for Costa Rica women’s national team is not what it should be when Mexico is mentioned as having better prepared for Rio Olympic qualifiers. The big factor in getting players minutes, experience, and opportunity to form chemistry and link up on the pitch results in the lack of friendly matches. The 30 year-old Cruz would like to see the Costa Rican Football Federation take advantage and schedule more matches during international dates.
“At the end of the day we had a good World Cup and we had a good showing here for the most part. In the end the big thing for us is having matches, the matches ahead of time are key. The fact that those matches are key, the federation knows that there are FIFA dates that we can be playing on and we aren’t playing on those dates. Those are dates that we should be taking advantage of where teams are available to play us as well. The key is to have the matches.”
Raquel Rodriguez finished Rio Olympic Qualifying tied for first in the tournament with 6 goals. Costa Rica had an up and down tournament. A 5-0 loss to the U.S. followed by a 9-0 win over Puerto Rico before a nail-biting 2-1 victory over Mexico to advance to the semifinals against Canada. Rodriguez was happy with how Costa Rica performed despite the lack of support and resources available.
“I think we had a good tournament in general and I think we demonstrated that without much compared to other teams we can do good things,” Rodriguez said. “At this point I think this tournament is a platform for us to speak up and ask for friendlies and continuity for the national team. That’s something we don’t have.”
Money speaks and having funding available to set up international friendlies, training camps, and tournaments like the Algarve and Cyprus Cup are exactly what Costa Rica needs to continue to help their players reach the next level. More of everything is needed from the Costa Rican Football Federation. Not nearly enough is being pumped back into the women’s national team.
“Yeah, there is funding… maybe. I don’t know the exact numbers or anything,” declared Rodriguez. “I definitely think we need planning and to take advantage of FIFA dates. We have to have friendlies, that’s something we didn’t have. That’s tough, and yes we need more of that.”
During the 2015 World Cup we saw Costa Rica feature as one of the surprise teams of the tournament. Response and quick action to support and continue the positive results and progression of the team was not existent. Costa Rica didn’t make it out of Group E, but they also didn’t get destroyed by the competitors they faced. Draws against Spain and Korea Republic showed that Costa Rica is a team to look out for. A narrow 1-0 loss to Brazil to close out the tournament was also viewed as a surprise result.
After the World Cup, the 2015 MAC Hermann Trophy winner expected to hear some sort of positive communication from the Costa Rica Football Federation. In the end, Rodriguez was left disappointed from the lack of no response and no further information provided.
“As a player I never had communication between players and the federation. It’s also something we could improve, and again this is not something I experienced, communication,” Rodriguez recounted. “I don’t know whether the coach (Amelia Valverde) probably had communication after the World Cup. As a player I feel like there’s no ears from the federation to listen to what we have to say sometimes. After the World Cup, I don’t know. I didn’t see any response.”
Cruz, now 30, remembers the 2012 London, Olympic Qualifying tournament in Vancouver when Costa Rica advanced to the semifinals only to fall to the U.S. 3-0. In the time since then, the team continues to push forward and onwards without much support behind the scenes. Cruz once again echoed the need for the Costa Rican Football Federation to step up and show support.
“I remember that the journey has been quite long and we’ve been making lots of strides with the World Cup and with the Olympic qualifying cycle. The fact is that the federation needs to recognize the work, heart, and determination we are putting in. We are probably the most well structured central american federation when it comes to women’s soccer, but it’s still not at the level that it needs to be. To compete with the big ones, U.S. and Canada we are going to have to get more support.”
Heading into qualifying for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, Rodriguez wants to see more matches, camps, and opportunity for the national team. It can’t just be getting together every few months with half the team available. Costa Rica needs a plan and needs to put something together that will allow players to play in matches. The only way to get better results is to play matches. That isn’t happening and it needs to be.
As Rodriguez turns her attention to preparing for the upcoming NWSL season with Sky Blue FC she will also be keeping an eye on what transpires with the Costa Rican national teams. The 12-teams preparing for the Rio Olympics will be playing friendlies as they get set for the tournament. Costa Rica would make a great opponent for any one of those 12-teams to play in preparation.
“I think definitely the friendlies and continuity throughout the year, because it’s a mistake that we only get together a couple of months before these kinds of tournaments. The truth is we need more preparation for that. Friendlies and continuity and what I mean by that is more camps with the whole team together and planning.”
As for Cruz she will be heading back to PSG to help her club team in France. Her decision on where she intends to play football next season has yet to been decided. Cruz would like to stay in Europe, but cautioned that nothing is set in stone. Everything will depend on her health and the status of her knees.
“I’m not sure where I will be next year, but the goal is to continue to play and stay in Europe. The knee is something I obviously need to look, but the key is to go back and play in the World Cup qualifying cycle and hopefully help the team make the World Cup. In the end I’m going to have to play it by ear with my knee and what I have ahead of myself.”
Costa Rica continues to climb the CONCACAF ladder and should be in fine form for World Cup qualifying. The strength of the team and how they will fair at the next World Cup, if they qualify, will depend on the Costa Rican Football Federation. If they intend to provide much more funding, matches, and training camps to support the team Costa Rica will be even further improved.