‘The Monster’ Breathes Hope, Saprissa Clinic Teaches Lessons in Soccer, Life

February 4, 2005

LA CARPIO, Costa Rica – The color of royaltycontrasts against the dust-brown and rusted squalor ofthis heavily Nicaraguan-populated shantytown on theoutskirts of Costa Rica’s capital.The bright-purple Saprissa soccer uniforms on thebacks of 60 underprivileged children living in LaCarpio have become an emblem of hope; a potential exitplan from the destitution of this impoverished settlement.Known affectionately (and disparagingly) as “TheMonster,” Saprissa – Costa Rica’s most formidable clubsoccer team – recently opened a free soccer clinic in LaCarpio to work with Nicaraguan immigrants who haveembraced their adoptive country’s passion for the sport.THOUGH pestered with hitches, such as findingan adequate field and getting the kids to show up regularlyfor practice, the school has captured the imaginationsof folk both here and in Nicaragua.In La Carpio, a shot at big-league soccer couldmean a ticket out of poverty.In Nicaragua, a country with a dismal soccer tradition,the clinic could produce a future generation of athletesto give that country a new sport to cheer for, alongwith the traditional fan favorites of baseball and boxing.BUT for now – and perhaps most importantly, sayscoach Juan Castillo – the clinic is generating an interestin sport, while inculcating youth with a sense of teamwork,camaraderie and discipline that could help steerthem away from the drug use, alcoholism and violencethat fester among families here.“They teach us things about life. To respect otherpeople, to not say bad words,” said Minor Valverde, 9. “There are almost no fights,” adds teammateMoíses Josüe Barrantes.THIS is Saprissa’s first free clinic.The team provides the uniforms, balls,cones and two coaches.Negotiations are still under way tofind a more suitable field, with grass.The team’s management regards theclinic not just as social charity, but a goodbusiness investment.“A kid with talent should have thesame opportunities as any other to be a starSaprissa player,” said Justin Campos,Saprissa’s sports manager.And if the school happens to producethe next Alvaro Saborío (Saprissa’s starforward), all the better the for the teamknown as the purple monster.“If we can find talent,” Camposadded; “obviously it will benefit us in thelong run.”THE soccer clinic is also showing thepromise of playing a larger function asgoodwill ambassador between two countriesthat have a history of strenuous economic,political and social relations. It isan example of sport succeeding where politicshave failed.“We want to seek solidarity with theNicaraguan people, with whom we identifyso much,” Campos said. “We’re lookingfor an alliance between the two people.I was also a foreigner – I played professionalsoccer in South Korea, and Iknow what it’s like to try to live as a foreignerin another country.”Saprissa plans to open similar soccerschools in Nicaragua in the coming year,Campos said. Talks are already under waywith Julio Rocha, president of theNicaraguan Soccer Federation.Campos said Saprissa will notifyRocha if they discover any bloomingNicaraguan talent in the La Carpio clinic.And Nicaragua needs all the help itcan get. The Nicaraguan National Teamcurrently ranks 158th in the world, justabove war-ravaged Sierra Leon, accordingto FIFA’s most recent world soccerranking.LA CARPIO is a town of squat, cinderblock and rusted corrugated-metalhouses jammed between a sand quarryand a landfill.The Nicaraguan population herevaries from 40-50%. They are a transientcommunity in search of work and opportunitiesunavailable in Nicaragua.Coach Castillo estimates about 90%of his young players are Nicaraguan.Though the school was established asa charitable response to the town’s poverty,the intense social problems that povertybreeds sometimes complicate the practices,the coach said.“You can’t just see the kids as soccerplayers,” Castillo said. “Sometimes if akid’s father hits his mother when he’sdrunk on a Friday – for example – the kidwon’t come to the field the next day mentallyprepared. His mind is in anotherplace.”THE clinic is still looking for a properfield; the kids currently practice on acement court on Saturday mornings.But the poor “field” conditionshaven’t dampened enthusiasm in the community.Watching the practice from the sideline,a La Carpio resident with kids stilltoo young to play said he thinks the cliniccould be the start to a new sporting traditionin the squatter settlement.“It gives them a lot of opportunity,”he said. “I have faith that lots of DivisionI players will come out of here.”

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