San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

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Many sports leagues are dominated by  the same teams. In the United States’ Major League baseball, the New York Yankees are almost always in the running for the World Series championship. And, in the English Premier soccer league, Manchester United is expected to be an annual threat for the title. It’s more surprising when these teams are eliminated from championship contention than when they win a championship.

This same idea applies to soccer in Costa Rica.

Traditionally, two teams – Deportiva Saprissa and Liga Deportiva Alajuelense – absolutely dominate Costa Rica’s First Division soccer league. From 1992 to 2009, only these two teams have won the championship, combining for 17 consecutive league titles.

But 2009 has been different.

Last Sunday, both Saprissa, as they are known to their hometown San José fans, and Alajuela’s La Liga were eliminated on the final weekend of the winter (or rainy) season. Therefore, neither team can participate in the six-team playoff round, which began Wednesday.

“It’s a surprise to see La Liga and Saprissa both eliminated because they are the teams always expected to win the championship,” said Luis Carlos Campos, president of the competition committee for UNAFUT, the league’s governing body. “Many of their fans are disappointed, but most fans around the country, even fans of La Liga and Saprissa, are excited to see the other teams have the opportunity to win a title.”

In the summer (or dry) season, the 17-year championship reign of the two teams came to a close when Liberia Mía won the title, beating Heredia in the finals. The title was the first in the history of the Liberia Mía club. Saprissa and La Liga hold a combined 50 league titles.

“I always expect us to win, but I actually like to see some of the other teams getting the chance to win,” said Raúl Soto, a fan clad in the purple jersey of Saprissa this week in San José. “It gets boring when it is always Saprissa and La Liga. I’m enjoying watching the other teams play for a championship.”

The first semifinal games were played Wednesday, with Brujas FC from Ezcazú beating Liberia Mía 2-1 and Puntarenas FC beating the Cartaginés of Cartago 2-1. The winners of the two-game series will move on to the second round of the semifinals, to face Herediano from Heredia and Pérez Zeledón, who both had byes through the first semifinal round.

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