HEREDIA, COSTA RICA – The concept of “Pura Vida” or Pure Life is one of the foundations of modern Costa Rican society. Drive through the winding streets of San José or munch on Gallo pinto (rice and black beans) and you’re more than likely to hear the pleasantry heard in what form of another.
No person in an LA Galaxy uniform understands this idea better than midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, who was given a healthy dose of Pura Vida – as well as his fair share of animosity – during LA’s CONCACAF Champions League trip to Costa Rica that ended in a scoreless draw against C.S. Herediano.
While with L.D. Alajuelense, Sarvas got a taste of this lifestyle while leading to the club to two consecutive titles as he appeared in 21 of Liga’s 30 league games during his time in Costa Rica. Along the way, the affable Sarvas was considered a fan favorite among not just Liga fans, but also supporters of other clubs across the Central American country.
“I have very good moments coming back here. With football, outside football, with friends, it is very beautiful,” said Sarvas. “I think that I did something good here and it’s something that is recognized and for me, that’s very important.”
However, if there was one team in Costa Rica that Sarvas ran afoul of, it was Herediano. During the second leg of the Invierno final at Estadio Elano Rosabal Cordero, Sarvas scored to put Alajuelense on level terms with Herediano before Liga , as Alajuelense are commonly known, clinched the title in a penalty kick shootout. Although Sarvas left for the U.S. soon after the match, signing with LA ahead of the 2012 MLS regular season, his exploits were not forgotten.
Then it was no surprise that when Sarvas and the Galaxy arrived in Costa Rica that it was Sarvas, who was headline news. A story about Sarvas dedicating a goal to the fans of Alajuela was the most read story on Al Dia, the largest newspaper in the Central American country for several days—the story was ultimately refuted by Sarvas himself.
During each Galaxy media availability, dozens of reporters lined up each time to speak to the former Liga star and relive his past exploits in a Liga kit. But the media weren’t the only ones who took notice as nearly 20 Herediano fans met the Galaxy at the airport.
The fans chanted and screamed at the Galaxy as they boarded their team bus and even had their own special chant for Sarvas that caused the midfielder to admit, “I'm glad that my mom is in Brazil and…cannot hear what they [said].”
“I knew the fans of Herediano that they didn’t have any good memories of the final where I scored the goal,” said Sarvas. “This is how they run soccer in this country with that type of passion. I did not expect it at the airport; I thought that it would happen in the stadium.”
Soccer wouldn’t be the only focus of the trip as Sarvas and the Galaxy also sought to leave an impact in the local community. Working in tandem with U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, the LA Galaxy Foundation and Herbalife Family Foundation donated 10,000 dollars to the La Libertad Foundation. The foundation uses sports and education to help at-risk youth in the Pavas neighborhood of San Jose.
During the hour long clinic, Sarvas was once again the biggest draw as children—many of whom were Alajuelense fans—flocked to the Brazilian to receive autographs and participate in soccer drills. By the end of the event, the children eagerly wished for Sarvas to return long after the players had gone.
“It’s something beautiful, when you live in a country like [Costa Rica] you know how important that some words for the students are,” said Sarvas. “I think that it’s very beautiful for Galaxy and Herbalife to do this and help these people. I’m sure that they had a beautiful day and they will keep this in their memory for a while.”
But what was most profound was his reaction among the common neutral fan. Whether it was in the breakfast line at the team hotel or following the club’s training sessions, fans came out of the woodwork to show their support in a manner more likely suited for a Robbie Keane or Landon Donovan than the soft-spoken Brazilian midfielder. Supporters of Alajuelense even waited outside the stadium during the team’s training session for a glimpse of Sarvas, but were ultimately invited in by the Galaxy midfielder.
“Sarvas was one of our finest players,” said an Alajuelense fan that refused to be identified by name. “He did Liga proud and helped us win two titles.”
Even Sarvas’ teammates have taken notice of his warm reception.
“He’s kind of like the President here, I guess,” said defender Sean Franklin. “It’s nice for him to want to give back to where he once played.
“It’s different, Marcelo is very famous in [Costa Rica],” said Juninho, who labeled Sarvas’ ‘El Rey’ or The King after one photo op. “Marcelo is always laughing about [the reaction] so it is nice].”
That cold reception that Sarvas anticipated was exactly what he received at “El Rosabal.” Soon kind words of “Pura Vida” were replaced by chants featuring various other four letter words, which are not suitable for print.
Each time that Sarvas touched the ball, screams and whistles emanated from the crowd. The jeers seemed constant as Sarvas was among the few Galaxy players, who were able to navigate the challenging turf surface that stymied several LA attacks.
When the club went in at halftime, fans rushed to the tunnel to give Sarvas’ their warmest welcome and when he ultimately came off the field in the 81st minute, the loudest roar of the night burst from the stadium as fans in the one stand climbed the gates to shout at Sarvas as he took his place on LA’s substitutes bench.
However, the Heredia fans saved their best, or worst depending on your point of view, for last as the clubs walked into the tunnel at the final whistle; several yellow-and-red clad supporters launched a barrage of questionable bags of liquid in the direction of the Galaxy midfielder. However, none would hit their intended target.
Although other players might have been angered by the fans’ conduct, Sarvas took the incident in stride.
“It could [have] reached me if they threw coins, but it is okay,” said Sarvas who even flashed a smile as he discussed the fan abuse.
Once the final whistle sounded and the final photo op with a Costa Rican fan was finished, Sarvas admitted that the experience of his first trip back to the land of “Pura Vida” will stay with him forever.
“Of course,” said Sarvas. “It’s because I did something nice in this country that they keep me in their memory… It’s nice. It’s a different feeling. It’s good to feel this and now we go back to home to the U.S.”
Odds are that it will take many more years for Sarvas’ star—for better or for worse— to fade in Costa Rica and if he finds a way to help lead the Galaxy over Herediano in Wednesday’s second leg, then the legend may just grow.
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com