CHICAGO – Costa Rican players kicked balls back and forth through the wet grass of Soldier Field on Saturday night.
They dribbled, volleyed and sprinted after balls through cones with several assistant coaches watching under light showers.
Every person on Costa Rica’s roster was counted for except for its head coach. Ricardo Lavolpe. He didn’t want to be part of the practice that was open to the media during only the first 15 minutes.
Where was Lavolpe? Why was the former Mexico coach missing?
A team spokesperson did not give many details other than to say that Lavolpe chose not to attend the session.
Costa Rica practiced earlier in the day with Lavolpe present.
The coach could be avoiding all media in anticipation to Costa Rica’s match against his former team.
Mexico takes on Costa Rica on Sunday night at Soldier Field in what is being considered El Tri’s toughest challenge it in this Gold Cup.
The game will decide the Group A winner.
But this match goes beyond a berth in next week’s quarterfinals. There is some bitter history between Lavolpe and Mexico.
The Argentine-born coach with a bristly black mustache coached El Tri from 2002 to 2006. He led Mexico to the second round of the 2006 World Cup where the team lost to Argentina with a spectacular second half goal by Maxi Rodríguez.
Many in the soccer community say Mexico had never played a better World Cup match than that one. And Lavolpe was at the helm. He was later fired.
Lavolpe is well known in Mexico. He has coached several of its First Division teams. Many of the players on Mexico’s current roster have stopped to chat with Lavolpe on several occasions in between training sessions during this tournament. They even hugged on several occasions.
“There will always be respect for him because he was an important person in my development as a player,” said Mexico midfielder Andrés Guardado. “We know his style of play and what he likes to do and we know it’s going to be a real challenge.”
So, why all the hype before to this match?
Mexico coach José Manuel de la Torre played down any conflict.
“There is nothing more other than the fact that we know (Lavolpe) well,” de la Torre said during a news conference Saturday. “It’s not Ricardo against me. It is the Mexican national team against the Costa Rican national team. There is the same sense that there is when we face any other team.”
De la Torre was asked what he has learned from Lavolpe while Lavolpe was in charge of Mexico.
“It is not only about Ricardo,” de la Torre said. “It’s also about other coaches. He always managed his teams well. It’s not just him but other coaches in Mexico.”
In Mexico, Lavolpe is disliked. Even in the United States.
He was jeered several times in Dallas and in Charlotte when he was showed on the scoreboard screens. The boos echoed throughout each stadium.
Lavolpe responded to the jeers after Costa Rica’s 5-0 win against Cuba in Dallas.
“The fans sometimes make decisions but they forget that we qualified to the Olympic Games (Athens 2004), we won the Gold Cup (2003) that qualified us to the Confederations Cup,” Lavolpe said. “The fans let the media drive them. For me, Mexico is a thing of the past.”
Lavolpe has been very vocal in the past. He continued his rants in Dallas.
“It’s been a while since they’ve made it to the Olympic games,” Lavolpe said about Mexico. If they boo me, they should bomb o shoot the coaches that came after me. If they are booing me, let’s remind them about the development of (Ricardo) Osorio, (Carlos) Salcido, (Aaron) Galindo, (Pavel) Pardo, all players who were responsible for how the team functioned. What am I going to say about the fans?”
Lavolpe hasn’t said much to the media since.
Most of his training sessions have been closed. Perhaps he has something in store for Mexico.