When Sergio and Barb Vargas first met through mutual friends Latin dancing in 2001, Barb didn’t know a whole lot about the Costa Rican national team and was only casually interested in soccer.
But 14 years into their marriage and two kids later, Barb has become nearly as devoted a follower of the Ticos as her husband is of the national team from the country where he grew up.
“Sergio really taught me to be a die-hard fan of the game,” Barb said. “I was only casually interested before we were together. To see Sergio ecstatic when La Sele makes it to the World Cup is absolutely magical. And it’s always cute to see the girls in the Tico gear.”
Sergio doesn’t remember the first year Costa Rica qualified for the World Cup in 1990, but he heard a lot about that team growing up.
“There’s a movie about us qualifying that I’ve watched many times, Italia 90,” he said. “My first true memory was Brazil winning the Cup in ‘94.”
Costa Rica faces Brazil in Group E today in desperate need of a win after falling 1-0 to Serbia on Sunday.
Barb and Sergio had several of their friends over to their Montgomery County home for a Father’s Day breakfast to watch that match. Many were friends Sergio has played soccer with or that they’ve met attending Philadelphia Union matches.
“Sergio grew up with soccer being part of his life,” Barb said. “Watching games every weekend is just part of his routine. He truly enjoys the game and it takes him temporarily to another zone. As far as the family and soccer, it’s definitely brought us together. The girls love going to the Union games and it’s been great to see them learn the sport through their Papi’s passion.”
Though disappointed that the U.S. didn’t qualify, Barb said only having Costa Rica in it this time around has made it easier to focus their family’s rooting interests.
“I know I will makes some folks angry at saying this, but I’m relieved to be cheering on only one team,” she said. “It takes away the guilt I feel cheering for a non-U.S. team. I wish the U.S. was in it, of course, but I also think it serves as a wake-up call to U.S. Soccer.”
The logic goes, after all, that if tiny Costa Rica — its population of close to 5 million less than that of the Philadelphia Metro area — can field a team able to qualify for three of the last four World Cups, surely the U.S. can do better.
“In a country this big, you know the players exist,” Sergio said.