San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Soccer Witches Foretell Winning Season

THERE may be a new sound to add to the cacophonyof cheers and honking horns on or off the soccer field: acha-ching chorus of cash registers. Maybe the new fanswill take to cackling, as well.Las Brujas (Witches), a renamed and relocated andnewly outfitted team that laid claim to the posh southwestSan José suburb of Escazú will try to break financialrecords as well as game records.The base of the team is the struggling GuanacasteSports Association from the northern Pacific province,refreshed with star players from other Costa Rican clubsand international players from Brazil, Uruguay andSlovakia.Nearly one month ago they left the coast, changed theirname to Las Brujas in a nod to Escazú’s age-old handle, theCity of Witches, and began kicking balls around the stadiumthere under head coach Fernando Sosa. In mid-Augustthey should be able to prove what they’re capable of intheir first game in their new disguise – which does notinclude pointy hats.A slew of teams seem to do little but give the country’stwo greats, the Alajuelan Sports League, called LaLiga, and the Saprissa Sports Club, something to do whenthey are not playing each other. The talk among the playersand Las Brujas’ higher-ups is that they plan to changethat, if not this year, then soon. They also plan to changethe way sports are sold in this country.“I know the football (soccer) business is a big business,but here in Costa Rica it’s not big,” said StefanoSgarlata, the team owner from Italy. “We are trying to puttogether a club with the same idea as in Europe. It is acompany, not just a club, so we think it’s a good business.”THE difference is that the team does not just entertainon the field. It will throw public parties and host autograph signingevents, players will make scheduled appearances innight spots and schools around San José and in an Internetchat-room, and its performance onthe field will be a vehicle to promotea Las Brujas brand of products.None of that will make a differenceif the team can’t score goals thisseason, but neither the players nor thecoaches seem worried that they won’tdo well.With just a few weeks of trainingbehind the newly remodeledteam entering the firstmatch of the season, teamcaptain Vinicio Alvaradoexpects to rank among thefirst-place teams inthe first division.“We can beatthem,” he said, referringto the Tico soccer kings laLiga and Saprissa. “We have two yearstogether and we have hired good players fromother teams.”He has been with the team for the past twoyears when it was in Guanacaste, coming onboard when Sgarlata bought it. Last year the antiquatedversion of the team took fourth place in the first division,an encouraging rank for the team that is now freshly invigoratedwith new talent.THREE players for Costa Rica’s national team play forLas Brujas – Bernie Peña, defense, Alexander Jara, goalie,and Rodrigo Cordero, forward, who alsoplayed in the 2002 World Cup.“The conditions have improved”since the team left Guanacaste, Alvaradosaid. “We’re better paid, we have sponsors,good equipment – now we canfocus on playing, not worrying aboutgetting paid or anything else.”Head coach Sosa, from Uruguay –one of the people who give the team itsinternational flavor – sees a vast differencebetween the team when it was in Guanacaste and nowthat it is in Escazú.“It’s better in all respects – good raw material (theplayers), good sports equipment,” he said. “InGuanacaste, we didn’t have enough – the players had tobuy their shoes, there were no goals, cones. Here we haveclothes for training and the things we need. We’re workingto get the same rhythm we had last year with the newplayers. I’m content.”TEAM captain Alvarado agrees that the team has cometogether well.“In the soccer aspect we play well, the team is veryaggressive and knows what it wants,” hesaid. “People see the team favorably. It’sa big commitment we have to them – wecan’t fail.”Vicente Rosela, a forward from SanJosé’s northeast suburb Moravia said, “Idon’t want people to have the slightestdoubt that we will fight and that we willwin matches to put us in the highestranks.”The English-speaking Brazilian playersstruggle through Spanish, but Leandro Gobatto, a forwardfrom Sao Paulo, said he has not had any problemadjusting to Costa Rica.“I feel like I’m home,” he said. In spite of that instantcomfort, he said he would like to play in Europe after the coming season with Las Brujas.HIS wish may come true. Team owner Sgarlata is a FIFA(Fédération International de Football Association) agentresponsible for 90% of the sales ofCosta Rican players to other teamsabroad – mostly to Europe, Asia andMexico, Sgarlata said.He bought the Guanacaste team twoyears ago when it rose from second divisionto first.“The idea of the team is to promoteplayers,” said Antonio Moyano, sportsdirector for Las Brujas. “When they dowell here, Stefano will sell them to othercountries.”Moyano has been in soccer fordecades, having come to Costa Ricamore than 30 years ago from a professionalcareer as a forward in Madrid tocoach here. Now he leaves the coachingto others, but remains as a consultant, recommending whichplayers to buy and which to sell.TO help ensure their success and the flow of fresh talent,Las Brujas maintains a league of young players, ages 14-20,who could fill its ranks some day. Carlos Blanco, theUruguayan coach of the Junior teams, issued a call for youngplayers through radio and television spots in late June. Hehas since pared down the 250 applicants to 20 for his firstcategory team. Then he will fill three more categories, basedon the kids’ ages, with 20 kids each.“They are good quality players, they have good technique,but little sense of sacrifice,” he said. “We have toingrain the concepts of sacrifice, characterand dreams.”The kids and the players are not justa potential wildcard in the battlebetween the country’s established greatteams, they will be vehicles for promotinga product line.“We’re definitely trying to dothings differently,” José Pablo Rivera,the creative director, said. “We’re lookingat it as more than a football team –we are trying to combine football withentertainment – breaking away fromthe usual.”BEFORE its first game the teamalready had a Web site, a long line ofofficial sponsors and a list of officialproducts that will be sold in CasaBrujas stores in shopping centers throughout San José and itsoutskirts.“Foreigners are becoming fans of the team,” Rivera said.“They see it as something different, more merchandising,better image. And possibly an English section on Web site.”To appease the foreigners’ tastes, Las Brujas sells seasontickets, rather than single tickets to each game. It is also developingan affiliates club – a card that fans buy to earn discountsat designated restaurants, clubs, stores, enter exclusive pageson the Web site and earn cheap or free game passes.For info and ticket purchases, call 800-BRUJASFC(800-278-5273), or visit the Web site at

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