Mayor Christian Price (left) and Maricopa businessman Peter Cockle are among local soccer enthusiasts working to bring Deportivp Saprissa to Maricopa. Photo by William Lange

Bringing a top-drawer Costa Rican soccer team to Maricopa is just as complicated as it sounds.

Smooth fields in a warm climate are a big enticement for Deportivo Saprissa. But the team has needs to be met. That involves individuals, the city, the school district and businesses.

The football field at Maricopa High School must get a new look. Thousands more seats are necessary. And promoters need to sell 4,000 tickets to make it all worthwhile.

Almost everyone involved in getting the team to town, however, sees the positives of the proposed training sessions in Maricopa and Casa Grande.

“From a sporting aspect, we are excited to be able to play on flat, level fields,” Galliano Luconi, financial manager for Deportivo Saprissa, said from his office in San Jose, Costa Rica. “We flew in a couple of months ago and looked at Casa Grande, too. (Grande Sports Academy) is an incredible project. It was a very positive impression.”

The team will train at Grande Sports and play at least two games, June 26 and June 29, and possibly three at Ram Stadium at MHS.

From a marketing perspective, the Saprissa club wants to spread recognition of its brand overseas. Latching onto growing popularity of the pro game in the United States is one way to do that.
[quote_box_left]Deportivo Saprissa Fast Facts
Founded: 1935
League: Costa Rican Primera División
Stadium: Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Ayma
Colors: Purple and white[/quote_box_left]

“We want to be involved in that explosion,” Luconi said.

The key local figure in bringing Saprissa to Maricopa is Peter Cockle, who owns SHIPFR8 and is a soccer scout. He is mustering his Valley resources and his sporting relationship with TaylorMade’s Dana Taylor, a college and Premier Development League (PDL) coach, to nail down the specifics of Saprissa having its preseason in Arizona for three years.

“This is a very small starting point,” Cockle said. “It could also balloon up into something major. Hopefully, it will encourage businesses and everyone’s going to hear about Maricopa.”
That’s the hope of Mayor Christian Price, who also sees both the sports and marketing angles of the enterprise.

“I think this is an excellent showcase for what it means to come up with creative ideas on how to make the city a place that’s recognizable, that draws people here and ultimately has another level of success in a way that perhaps you wouldn’t think of right off the bat,” Price said. “It’s another way of growing our city, from residents to businesses to entertainment.”

El Monstruo Morado, “The Purple Monster” as the team is nicknamed for its purple jerseys, needs to see community support to center its Arizona commitment on Maricopa. The team has an option to take its preseason to the Prescott area.

The organization that has perhaps the most complicated task associated with the Saprissa visit is excited about the venture.

“We’re happy to be part of it,” said Aron Rausch, business manager for Maricopa Unified School District. “I think it’s going to be great for the community.”

Rausch is the administrator working on an agreement with TaylorMade for use of the MHS field. He said MUSD is requested to temporarily paint over the gridiron markings of high school football, remove the goal posts and generally fit up the field for pure soccer. After Saprissa’s visit, the field will be restored.

Rausch said TaylorMade will add 2,000 temporary seats on the visitor side of the field to increase capacity to 6,000 fans. (Saprissa’s home stadium holds 23,000.)

From MUSD’s point of view, the district has to recover its costs, and that is part of the contract negotiations. The school district rents its facilities, but it’s not often an organization wants to lease the football field. The standard fee to a for-profit organization is $940 per day. If lights are used, that is an additional $27 per hour.

Saprissa also wants to rent the locker rooms, an even rarer request. Rausch said MUSD will probably hire an outside firm to paint over and restore the football markings.

The preseason visit from Saprissa involves clinics for players and coaches, some meet-and-great events and a donation to the high school soccer program. As nice as monetary help is, the potential for his players to mingle with professional, international soccer players really intrigues the Rams’ boys’ soccer coach.

“I’m pretty ecstatic,” Cortney Kellenaers said. “I’ve been trying to build the sport within the community, so to have professional soccer right in front of our kids’ eyes would be amazing.”

No matter what his past accomplishments, Kellenaers knows it doesn’t command the attention of his team like a current pro player.

“Once you become a coach, what you’ve done in your past doesn’t matter,” he said. “The guys that are playing now professionally, the kids tend to listen to them just a little bit more.”

Luconi said Saprissa has six players on the Costa Rica national team. Fifteen now play in Europe and the United States. Three others are in Vancouver. He said Maricopa can expect to see “top-quality coaches, world-class coaches.” He described the players as “very young and very enthusiastic.”

While he said preseason is a relaxed environment, it is also a time for the team to find its rhythm and start the season on the right foot.

“They are intense and very professional and very involving,” Luconi said. “They’re going to see top soccer.”

The team usually trains in Mexico. To train in Arizona and prepare for Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) competition, they are starting a month earlier than normal. Luconi said coaches have been looking at the expected summer temperatures and humidity in Arizona.

“It’s definitely a concern, but there are other precautions we take like playing at night,” he said.

Luconi said Saprissa’s No. 1 goal this season is to win 50 percent of the national championship matches it competes in. For the past two seasons, they have won 75 percent.

Saprissa has 32 national championship titles and won the CONCACAF cup in 1993, 1995 and 2005.

When Kellenaers said, “This has huge potential to have a giant impact on our program,” he was not just talking about Saprissa. Cockle said if the first training sessions turn out well, a PDL soccer team could be based out of Maricopa starting next year.

“It will potentially become something great,” Mayor Price said. for tickets and sponsorship

This story appeared in the May issue of InMaricopa.